What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
Do you recognize that lyric? Fans of the musical Hamilton sure do. Near the climactic moment of the show, when Hamilton and Burr are engaged in the duel that will cost Hamilton his life, these are the words that run though his head. (link) (Disclosure: Yes, I am a huge, geeky fan of the musical.)
Throughout Alexander Hamilton’s life, and as represented in the musical, Hamilton is concerned – no, obsessed – with his “Legacy.” He worries about how he will be remembered. He worries about what he will leave behind when he’s gone. He is worries about what mark he will make in the new country and in the history books.
And leave a mark he did. I haven’t had the privilege or the funds to actually attend the musical…yet. But I have listened to it and studied it intently. I find it impossible to listen to Hamilton, or learn more about him, without walking away with the same question:
What legacy will I leave behind? What mark will I make on the world?
Have you asked yourself those questions? I imagine you have. I have.
It is a humbling line of thought. It can trigger either motivation or self-doubt. It can move us to action or remorse. The self-reflection can make us feel like winners – or losers.
What legacy will I leave behind – not only for the world, but for the people I love most in this world? This question isn’t driven by ego, but of concern. What will my children and grandchildren regard as the legacy that I leave?
(Enter insecurity – stage right)
I am pretty sure I will not leave much for my descendants in the way of material possessions. I don’t have a business empire, or oodles of money. No huge tracts of land. No gold bullion buried in the back yard. So, if the future is looking for me to leave a worldly legacy, they are in for some serious disappointment.
That said, what kind of legacy can I offer?
As I usually do, I run to see what the brethren have said about the idea. Here are few distinctions they have made regarding what a legacy can be:
A Legacy of Testimony: President Henry B. Eyring
“We would, if we could, leave our families a legacy of testimony that it might reach through the generations. What we can do to create and transmit that legacy comes from an understanding of how testimony is instilled in our hearts. Since it is the Holy Ghost who testifies of sacred truth, we can do at least three things to make that experience more likely for our families. First, we can teach some sacred truth. Then we can testify that we know what we have taught is true. And then we must act so that those who hear our testimony see that our actions conform with what we said was true. The Holy Ghost will then confirm to them the truth of what we said and that we knew it to be true.
That is how a legacy of testimony is created, preserved, and transmitted in a family. It isn’t easy, but ordinary people have done it.” (link)
A Legacy of Love: President Thomas S. Monson
“Next, do we exemplify the legacy of love? Do our homes? Bernadine Healy, in a commencement address, gave this counsel: “As a physician, who has been deeply privileged to share the most profound moments of people’s lives including their final moments, let me tell you a secret. People facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated. At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you. That circle of love is everything, and is a great measure of a past life. It is the gift of greatest worth.” (link)
“Seemingly little lessons of love are observed by children as they silently absorb the examples of their parents. When our homes carry the legacy of love, we will not receive Jacob’s chastisement as recorded in the Book of Mormon: “Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.” (Jacob 2:35.) (link)
A Legacy of Faith: Elder M. Russell Ballard & President James E. Faust
Speaking of the pioneers Elder Ballard said, “Perhaps one reason they sacrificed and endured was to leave a legacy of faith for all of us to help us feel our urgent responsibility to move forward in building up the Church throughout the world. We need the same dedication today in every one of our footsteps as the pioneers had in theirs.” (link)
Speaking of his grandfather, President Faust taught, “The legacy of faith he passed on to his posterity was far greater than money, because he established in the minds of his children and grandchildren that above all he loved the Lord and His holy work over other earthly things. He never became wealthy, but he died at peace with the Lord and with himself.” (link)
Those are some of the “Big Picture” ideas from the brethren. None of them are based on material possession. None are to feed the ego. None are to become famous. They are simply gifts that will bless the lives of those people in our personal orbits.
One of the main reasons I compiled some of my blog posts into a book was so that if they wanted to know, my posterity could read exactly what I believe. A small thing really, but tangible. Then I read this quote from PResident Monson that is much more important.
“As parents, we should remember that our lives may be the book from the family library which the children most treasure. Are our examples worthy of emulation? Do we live in such a way that a son or a daughter may say, “I want to follow my dad,” or “I want to be like my mother”? Unlike the book on the library shelf, the covers of which shield its contents, our lives cannot be closed. Parents, we truly are an open book in the library of learning of our homes.” (link)
There are other ways we can create and leave a legacy of Testimony, of Love and of Faith. The way we treat people, the spiritual traditions of scriptures, FHE and prayer in our homes, serving others, attending church – all of these build the kind of legacy that really matters. But the building of that legacy can also be happening without us even being aware of it. There is a hymn that is frequently sung at funerals that ames this point:
Those words make me wonder how many people would look back at my life and be willing to say that I have touched their lives for good. (I also must admit that there are probably some out there who would be quick to say that I have done just the opposite for them.)
The point is that we are all busily building a legacy. The people we interact with (or avoid), the people we love (or don’t love), the people we serve (or ignore), all of their lives are being touched by ours. For good – or ill. It is the daily, non-stop result of mortal living.
What is our legacy? Hopefully a legacy of testimony, of love, of faith, and of service. Because of all the things we can leave behind, those things are what matter. The sad disclaimer is that what our posterity and the world chooses to do with our legacy is entirely up them – that whole “agency” thing again.
Ultimately, or legacies will be defined, not by ourselves, or what our posterity does with them, but by the Savior himself. We hope to hear the simple praise, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)
I am not throwing away my shot.