Legacy. It’s a word I never fully comprehended until today. Sure, I’ve known the definition, at least loosely. I’ve used the word to compliment people, particularly older folks who have admirable character qualities, like my grandparents. And at introspective times, I’ve even considered what sort of legacy I’ll leave behind.
But I never really “got it” until today at my grandma’s memorial service.
As I sat and listened to testimonials, I noticed something odd. These people were not describing my grandmother, they were describing my mother. From her faith, uncanny hospitality, graciousness, birthday dinners of our chosen favorites, care for others, and inclusion of her children-in-law as her own, to her generosity, incredible friendship, notes of encouragement, emphasis on family, unconditional love for people, and even right down to her special birthday lamb cakes, they were eulogizing my own very-much-alive mother.
Sitting there at my grandma’s funeral, several things hit me for the first time. First, and most obviously, I was surprised at the striking similarities between the two women. There are so many parallels, it’s almost uncanny. Second, I became deeply appreciative to my grandma for her influence on my mom. While I’ve long loved so many things central to my mother’s character, I had never really realized the root of those things. And that root is in my grandma. I don’t think I have ever appreciated her as much or in the way I do today. Third, I realized anew the influence we may have on others, particularly in our intimate relationships. It can be amazingly beneficial, as it was in this case, or a lost opportunity. It’s a sobering realization and one that I hope affects me with conviction in the future. And fourth, I realized the true essence of a legacy.
Legacy is not the stamp you leave on the world. It’s not the investments you made, the inheritance you leave behind, or how acutely you’re remembered. It’s not even characterized by good things like new inventions, novel ways of interpreting the world, or charitable donations. It’s not trophies, or accomplishments, or medals.
Your legacy is how you’ve affected others’ lives.
So grandma, thank you. Your full character has greatly affected me, not only in how you’ve influenced my mom, but also in how you’ve impacted me, instilling virtues of faith, family, love, friendship, charity, and compassion. You left a beautiful legacy.