A common trait of humanity, at least for most of humanity, is when we are a memory, we want to leave a legacy — something that says we passed this way and did something for which the world will …
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A common trait of humanity, at least for most of humanity, is when we are a memory, we want to leave a legacy — something that says we passed this way and did something for which the world will remember us and, hopefully, that memory will be a good thing that will benefit mankind.
If you’re Einstein, it might be the theory of relativity, which somehow went over my head in school. I guess that makes it relative. If you’re Dr. Salk, it’s the polio vaccine. If you’re that Japanese fellow on cable TV, it’s eating 116 hot dogs in some sort of contest.
For most of us, however, our legacy won’t be that big or noticeable, at least to the world. But it can be a big thing for those around us. It’s like the story of the grandfather and grandson who walked along the beach one early morning. As they walked, the grandfather would toss starfish that had washed up on the shore back into the water.
The lad watched this in amazement and finally broke the silence by asking grandpa why he did that. Grandpa explained that the tide had brought the starfish ashore, and that if they lay out on the beach in the hot sun very long without water, they would die.
As grandpa continued his task, grandson said, “But grandpa, there are too many. You can’t do them all.”
“That’s right,” the grandpa said as he tossed another into the surf, “but it’s really important to that one.”
Sometimes I wonder what my legacy might be. Of course, other folks see us differently than we see ourselves, and different folks see us in different ways.
Years ago in English Five, the creative writing class at ol’ Pittsboro High, I thought my legacy would be the Great American Novel or at least some fine sports writing in the Durham Morning Herald, to which I aspired because, I reasoned, I could cover UNC football, sit in the press box at Kenan Stadium, eat fried chicken and get paid to watch the game.
Somehow that dream never materialized. It was due largely because when I arrived at UNC, I let Chapel Hill’s lure of Franklin Street, sleeping late, cutting class and shooting pool get in the way of going to class. That turn of events, though, turned me in another direction and led me to the way things are now. And now I often stand amazed at how a turn in the events in life takes us one way or another in ways we could never have thought of.
Now I realize I won’t ever sit in the press box, even if the virus and government let college football return before the end of time, especially since because of the accumulation of birthdays, I have begun to start collecting a bit of the funds Uncle Sam took from my income for years. And so, I wonder what that legacy might be.
I’m thinking that really for most of us our greatest legacy might be to leave a well-adjusted offspring or two — or more, if that’s the case — to the world. If that’s not possible for you, then tossing the starfish in your world back into the sea as you walk along your beach could be the thing, especially in this messed-up, shut-down, angry and divisive world in which we’re living now.
To be sure, we need to pay attention, keep our eyes open and do the right thing(s), but it may be our legacy is to be found in the small things that become big things. I think here of Jordan-Matthews teacher/coach Phil Senter, who died unexpectedly a week ago. I knew him well enough to know his name and to say “Hello,” but the young men and women who sat in his classroom or played for him knew him best. Many of them could say about him what one of his former football players, now a solid member of society, said about him — “He saw more in me than I saw in me.” That, dear friends, is a legacy, a living one.
So, for you and me, our legacy may be a kind word or deed, a pat on the back or a hug or a shoulder to lean on. There’s not much distance between a pat on the back and a kick in the rear end, but the results are miles apart. And so maybe we should work to make our legacy be like the old Scottish proverb: “Live so that when you die, the mourners outnumber the cheering section.”
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