Tending Your Legacy

While leading a recent online course on movies, the ever-gracious Gareth Higgins suggested that the well-intended advice, “Live every day as if it’s your last,” puts a bit too much pressure on the imagination. “Better to think of how you might live each day if you knew you had only six months.” In response, a participant wondered aloud how we might live if we treated everyone we met as if it were their last day.

It takes a gifted teacher like Gareth to draw such a vision from his students and say, as he did, “That’s putting it better than I did.” How carefully might we attend to the truth and kindness of our words if there were no tomorrow to mend fences? Would we act more thoughtfully if there were no “later” to repair the damage, no “next time” to reveal our heart’s deepest longing?

Many of us have lost an acquaintance, friend, or family member in the ongoing pandemic. We hold their memories close, honoring their lives as best we can, wondering how to go on in their absence. Some may already know what it’s like to have a short time left, determined to live well in what days remain, pondering how they might be remembered.

How do you want to be remembered? Which of your many words and actions do you hope others carry in their hearts? What’s keeping you from living that way more often? A poem by Marilyn Nelson provides a lovely, honest example, inviting us to imagine.

Cover Photograph

I want to be remembered
with big bare arms akimbo
and feet splay-toed and flat arched
on the welcome mat of dirt.

I want to be remembered
As a voice that was made to be singing
The lullaby of shadows
As a child fades into a dream.

I want to be as familiar
as the woman in the background
when the heroine is packing
and the Yankee soldiers come.

Hair covered with a bandanna,
I want to be remembered
As an autumn under maples:
A show of incredible leaves.

I want to be remembered
with breasts that never look empty,
with a childbearing, generous waistline
and with generous, lovemaking hips.

I want to be remembered
with a dark face absorbing all colors
and giving them back twice as brightly,
like water remembering light.

I want to be remembered
With a simple name, like Mama:
As an open door from creation,
As a picture of someone you know.

From “Mamas Promises” in The Fields of Praise by Marilyn Nelson, LSU Press, 1997.

Image: Detail from Magdelene with the Smoking Flame, Georges de La Tour, c. 1640.

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