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The Need to Leave a Legacy

We all want to matter. In my opinion, it is our greatest struggle as sentient beings – the egoic need to be important. Valuable. Immortal. Without getting too deep into religious distinctions, my belief is that in this life our fears and anxieties are all tied into this in some way, as are our decisions. We give meaning to things in life because we need them to mean something. We need to be more than just a product of chemistry and biology. And something has to explain those ineffable emotions we have when we fall in love, or eat a really amazing piece of cheesecake.

How do we as individuals accomplish immortality? I would argue we don’t, since everything, in the end, fades away…but that might be a little morose for a holiday Monday. Memory is a big one. It’s what we generally invest our own timelessness in. Why we create. Why we record. Why we pass on stories. We want a piece of ourselves to be remembered. To live on, beyond our short little guest appearance on earth.

But most of us have played the telephone game. Stories evolve. They get misconstrued. Or deliberately altered. History has been rewritten. Artifacts have been destroyed.  Truths about entire cultures have been lost to time, fate, and misfortune.

I’d love to guarantee a certain legacy for myself. I’d love for my children’s children to know me in a certain way, to pass on those stories, to preserve my identity. Because that would mean that what I’m doing right now in my little life matters.

There are practical ways of doing this. Recording you genealogy is one (if interested, try,, Writing a memoir is another (possibly for the more ambitious). Committing to a charity often gives a person an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the world, while receiving some sort of recorded acknowledgment that they did something, well, meaningful.

So what if no one’s watching? What if no one reads our memoirs or cares about our family tree? Then what?

I’d like to think the ego isn’t everything. At the end of the day (or of time, itself), it still feels like being a good person matters. Like falling in love is consequential. And that eating cheesecake, sometimes, is a weighty event.

So perhaps, instead of worrying too much about how we will be remembered, we should focus on how what we are doing in the moment makes us feel in the moment. Does it feel good? Joyful?

After all, we can’t worry too much about how our stories will be perceived or shared. Someone is guaranteed to alter the plot line eventually.

A Sense of Place - Discovering and Remembering

The Elements of a Satisfying Story