I’ve reflected on a number of things during these last few days, not the least of which is my legacy, or lack thereof. People with children might consider their children their legacy, but I have no children. People who build big, successful businesses structured to live on after them might consider the business their legacy, but I shut my business down and sold its assets so I could retire. People whose work has long-lasting positive effects on society or institutions might consider that work their legacy. But I think the vast majority of the rest of us who cannot point to children or businesses or impactful contributions to society have to come to grips with the fact that we may leave no legacy. That thought conjures up a recollection of something I wrote several years ago that included reference to what was described to me as a Jewish saying; it went something like this: “You die twice, once when you take your last breath and again when your name is spoken for the last time.”

The idea of a legacy is one that bothers me just a bit because it suggests (to me) leaving behind a timeless presence. How many people (or legends of people) in the history of humanity have, truly, left behind a timeless presence? Shakespeare? Yeah, probably. Plato? Yep. Aristotle? All right, yes. Jesus? Yeah. Einstein? Yep. Edison. Yes. Buddha? Yes. Okay, there are a bunch. But “a bunch” constitutes an infinitesimally small fraction of all of the people who have lived on earth. Most of our forebears are gone and utterly forgotten. Many of them, among them great philosophers and inventors, are just a whisper away from oblivion. How long will Cotton Mather’s legacy last? Speaking of cotton, will recollections of Eli Whitney’s name and his contributions to cotton’s place in the United States’ eighteenth and nineteenth century economies be eternal? What I’m suggesting here, of course, is that a legacy is a rarity and is, more often, a short-lived fable. But, still…

And that leaves me with my legacy. What do I want it to be? What CAN it be? The only thing left for me to leave as a legacy is my writing. My writing is the only “thing” of mine, truly mine, that has the potential of living beyond my last breath. And, so, I am thinking these days of how I might increase the odds of that happening. Still, though, it seems arrogant and egotistical to even think about such a topic. And maybe that’s exactly it. A legacy of arrogance and ego. This is not improving my attitude, not in the least. Maybe later, when I get home from a willing obligation, I will have a glass of wine and wonder whether I want to pursue this avenue of exploration, after all.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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