In the visual, nonverbal documentary Samsara, a group of Buddhist monks perform the painstaking task of creating an ornate sand painting. Late in the movie, true to the tradition, they destroy it in order to accept the notion of impermanence. Throughout the movie, this theme occurs over and over again in many forms.
For many of us, though, our desire for some sort of immortality drives us to achieve “something” in life. We don’t want to accept our impermanence, and we don’t want to embody a sand painting that disappears upon our deaths. We want to leave a legacy, something that shows the world that we were here after we are gone. We want the world to know that we were here.
I’m not a doctor who can point to lives saved, or a teacher who made a difference in a student’s life (remember Mr. Holland’s Opus?). I’m a writer, and I suppose that for me, the desire to connect with some number of readers through books, blogging, or other writings drives me to keep going. When I visited Orchard House last year, I touched the live of Louisa May Alcott, whose books touched me as a child and endure even now. I, too, want to leave something lasting behind.
I thought about this extensively when I edited my late mother-in-law’s writings to create Patchwork & Ornament: A Woman’s Journey of Life, Love and Art. Jenny Feldman had thought about it, too, and left plenty of evidence. She researched the Feldman family tree and uncovered not just names and dates, but stories of peoples’ lives. She also left her own detailed journals reflecting on her own life. She left stacks of artwork, and I have framed and hung many fine pieces that I found wrapped in kraft paper because she got tired of trying to sell her art, but never stopped creating it. She feared that her work would end up in a dumpster (I know this because she wrote about it), and I have done everything I can to ensure that it never does. She left us with the richness of story, her kind humor, and abundant creativity.
People who have read Patchwork have talked to me about what they want to leave behind for their families. There are rich stories left unwritten that may disappear into the sands of time, but many people don’t know how to begin.
Recently I started looking for a book that would point families in the right direction of leaving a legacy. For some, that means ensuring financial security for coming generations, and there are books about that. Some Christian authors have tackled the subject in terms of leaving a family of disciples. Books on career change may be useful for people who want to change direction and leave a legacy via their career. My own interest as a writer tends toward telling family stories, but legacy could mean anything meaningful, and that covers a broad range. How do we decide what we want to share? How do we go about doing so?
I have not found a book that handles this topic. What do you think? Have you found such a book that you could recommend? If not, is this a book you might read?