Legacy. A tall order to fill. A big deal.
And something maybe only the purest of heart can leave. By the dictionary’s determination it is just a gift or some property handed down by a predecessor, but to me the word has sacred overtones of something enduring and humble.
When I think about the legacies of others, I tend to focus more on kindness than money; more on emotional endowments than professional, athletic, political or even nobel prize winning achievements. Those stories will all be included in history’s narrative. What interests me, are the stories that will be included in families’ stories to each other, to our children, to their children, and amongst friends.
My grandfather left quite a legacy in our family, he has been gone a very long time and still he is a constant presence in stories and anecdotes. The man was seriously loved. As my mother and grandmother tell it, loved by all. A magical, almost mythic, character. I never knew him but I know him through his artifacts; the Christmas stockings we use are made from his army parachute (the one that saved his life in a plane crash in Burma), the piece of that plane’s windshield which he lovingly carved into heart necklaces for my mother and grandmother, the piece of metal from the plane which became a heart and initial adorned bracelet for my grandmother… I have heard stories of his sense of humor (pretending to hit his thumb with a hammer and howling loudly into a cassette recorder), his charm (having friends everywhere he went; going camping and knowing all his camp neighbors’ names and stories within a few hours of arrival) of his tenderness for his children (leaving work early if there was a thunderstorm to comfort his daughter who was extremely afraid of thunder), and of his tenderness with animals– including a few unusual pets (a monkey and a tiger) while working on the Burma Road during WWII. I may even know more stories about this man whom I never met than I do about some of my living relatives! And the stories of his character have long provided the family standard against which all others are measured.
For me, the greatest indicator of his continued gift is the way everyone looks for pieces of him in all the other family members. Some of us have his spatial abilities, others his quirky sense of humor, his creativity, his social skills, his affection for animals, or his devotion to family. My son was named for him. And his special endowment from his great grandfather is his tendency to befriend people of all ages, everywhere he goes, earning him the nickname “the mayor.”
My grandfather’s gift was in his kindness. Not because of grand overtures, but because of the everyday kindnesses. The people who leave the greatest legacies do so in their ordinary interactions; in the persistence of little altruisms; as if it were as simple as breathing.