The Legacy We Leave

I've been thinking a great deal about the legacies which we are creating with our lives.  I know that much of that is prompted by the "sandwich" in which I find myself.  We have two married daughters, both of whom are expecting their first children (and our first grand-babies!).  My two parents and my mother-in-law are all in poor health and require lots of assistance.  There are days when I seem to range from greatest joy to greatest sadness all in one day depending on what is happening with those I love.

My father was the parent with whom I most closely identified as I was growing up and I was fortunate to have been able to spend lots of time with him.  He was a natural leader, gifted teacher and speaker, wonderful father and husband and was active in church, community affairs and in our respective schools, etc.  He spent his career as a teacher, first in high school and then later at the college level.  He took great pride in following the careers of his students and I still often run into those who tell me what a caring, engaged, capable teacher he was and how he impacted their life in some way.

As a dad he was present and involved even though he worked two jobs through most of my childhood.  He taught us to love the out doors, travel, simple pleasures, time with extended family and the value of hard work.  He would grandparent 7 wonderful grand-daughters, all of whom would go on to college and establish successful careers of their own.  His grand daughters all loved to spend time with Grandpa and he with them.  His interest in their lives remains strong today and he is always thrilled to see them.  One of their favorite memories were times together on his fishing boat when he would patiently help them while they talked about life.  Often there would be a line for a "turn with Grandpa".

Lately when I stop to visit Dad has been sharing with me some of the things and people  which made the biggest impact on the course his life would take.  Most of these are stories that I had never before heard and are fascinating snapshots into a life well-lived.

Last week I took my dad to his 60th high school class reunion.  They invited me to stay because my dad is now wheelchair bound and needs assistance.  It was interesting to see where 60 years brings a class of 23 who saw the end of WWII during their high school years and an unbelieveable amount of changes in the years that followed.  They shared some of their memories of each other and one classmate stated that my father had taught him to play Monopoly.  My dad had no memory of that; the classmate said he had never forgotten....

Then they in turn talked about the places they now found themselves.  When it was time for my dad to speak he talked about his children and grandchildren.  He didn't talk much about now but about his teaching career and the awards he had received.  In that moment I realized he was sharing what he saw as his legacy and it was important for him that others knew what it was.

The legacies we leave become the foundations of something ongoing in the lives of those we touch.  We all want our legacies to be positive as parents, children, spouses, co-workers, friends, etc.  Sometimes in the midst of living we forget to focus on the big picture of our legacy.  We tend to be selfish by nature and we forget the impact of one small word or deed on others.  So I am reminded that it easy to leave a negative legacy as well.

When everything begins to be taken from us, as with my father, our legacy remains.  We want to remembered for the impact we left, the impressions we made, the greater good we effected.  We also need to let those who have positively impacted us know that.  For me as a daughter, I needed to let my dad know the profound ways in which he has and will continue to impact my life and those of my daughters and grandchildren.

I'm glad I had time to do it before it was too late!

Copyright 2008 Sondra TenClay  All Rights Reserved

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