Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Will Be Your Legacy?

On Wednesday my Momaw, Eva Gilbert, died after living for 93 years on this earth. Momaw touched and impacted many lives; not least of all mine. She was the wife of one man, Henry Gilbert, for almost 55 years (just two months shy), and that union produced seven children; 19 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, and 4 great-great-grandchildren. My wife, and my boys especially, were not able to spend nearly as much time with Momaw as I did; nevertheless, she had exerted a tremendous influence over them. How? It’s a result of her impact on me, but particularly her influence on Dad, as well as Mom. Momaw has left a helpful and fruitful legacy; a legacy that will touch people she hardly knew, and never knew, a legacy that will long carry on. Please understand that I am not referring to a legacy in a legal sense, such as bequeathing money or property, but in a figurative meaning; in terms of something handed down, hooks upon which those who will follow can climb, wells dug in valleys of sorrow from which others may drink and be refreshed. That is a legacy.

There is nothing like the reality of death to bring clarity to the living of life. Strangely enough that is one of the reasons why most of us want to harden ourselves against the prospect of death, because most of us do not want to think seriously about the issues of life. We want to live as if there were no yesterday and no tomorrow coming, and we can live simply in the moment, for the now, squeezing all the juice out of life that we possibly can and then we’ll deal with tomorrow should it ever come. But when we think for a moment or two, we realize how unrealistic that is, because sooner or later the camping trip of life will be over. And our tents (that’s our bodies) will be folded up and packed away, and we will head for an eternal dwelling, which the Bible says will either be in the presence of Christ, that is heaven, or absent the presence of Christ, that is hell. In the meantime, we walk this earthly sod, each one of us leaving behind a legacy.

All of us here have been positively or negatively influenced by the legacy of those who went before us. This is true whether or not we were personally acquainted with the person. I have never met the apostles Paul, Peter, and John or the beloved physician Luke, or any of the holy men who spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), but each of those men have greatly influenced my life. They have left a legacy, an enduring and immensely beneficial legacy.

In comparison with history, our lives are so brief; in comparison with eternity, our lives are but a wisp of vapor; a morning fog that burns away as the sun climbs in the sky. So how is that brief time being spent? All of us will leave a legacy. Our lives are like a canvas upon which we paint, and we will, sooner or later, leave behind a portrait. What will your legacy be?

Consider what Ecclesiastes 7:1-2 says:

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that [is] the end of all men; and the living will lay [it] to his heart.

Solomon isn’t contrasting birth and death, or saying that death is superior to birth. He is contrasting two significant human experiences: the day you are given your name, and the day that name appears in the obituaries. The life lived between those two events, the dash between those two dates if you like, will determine whether that name leaves behind a lovely fragrance or a foul stench.

I wonder. Do you spend time in graveyards? Four years of my life were spent as a member of the 3d U.S. Infantry (TOG); an US Army infantry unit with the dual mission of defending the Capital and performing military ceremonies; including funerals. Subsequently, I spent a great deal of time in Arlington National Cemetery. I worked there. I did PT there; I have run up and down every road and staircase in the place. On the Memorial Days of ’92-’95 every soldier of my unit would place a small American flag at the base of every tombstone in the place.

I’ve spent a lot of time in graveyards, and graveyards are a great deal like obituaries in that they are striking reminders of my own mortality. I well remember as a young(er) man, in my late teens and early 20’s seeing a gravestone of a soldier who was my identical age. It is always interesting, or you may say painful, to see in a cemetery a stone with your own age engraved on it.

But we are all confronted with the fact that our lives will be summarized by the chipping away of a chisel on a tombstone, and the totality of who we are, and what we’ve done, will be marked by a dash of a couple or three inches. As in my case, March 23, 1973 dash whatever. The question is obvious, “What am I doing with the dash between the dates?”

What about you? What will be your legacy?

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