a little cactus flower blooms
A few months ago I was talking with a friend who was very concerned about the legacy he would leave behind when he died. He had just turned fifty, was unmarried and had no children. "So who will remember me?" he asked. "I have no wife or children. I haven't done enough with my life to be remembered by anyone."
I recall telling him that, for the most part, none of us are remembered after we die. Sure, if you are a president, a pope, a famous leader, people might erect a statue of you or name a hospital or airport after you. And of course, we will be remembered by family for perhaps a generation or two but after that the memory fades.
Walk through an old cemetery, look at the faded gravestones and ask yourself if the people are actually "remembered" now that they have died.
I recall my last few weeks at the parish I once served in Los Angeles. My portrait hangs in a meeting room, and in the week before I left the parish many people had called or written to tell me of the great legacy I had left behind, promising that they would never forget me. But the truth is that in about twenty or thirty years (maybe less) people will look at that portrait and wonder "who is that guy?"
A few months ago when my friend expressed his fear that he would not leave a legacy, I also remember asking him, "But why do you even want to leave behind a legacy?"
Do we think that we will not live on unless people can continue to remember our great successes? It seems to me that our individual desire to be perpetually remembered is a pure act of the ego.
When we die, we give up our ego. Our individual "self" returns to the source of perfect unity, our individuality melts into God, and we live on in a new way. So, in some sense, I don't want to be perpetually "remembered" when I die. My ego will have faded into the source from which I came - into the perfect harmony of divine connection. Why would I want people to remember what no longer is?
Last spring a little yellow flower blossomed on the cactus outside my retreat house. It has now faded and disappeared from view. While it was here, it gave off a tender beauty - that one brightly colored yellow flower springing from a prickly cactus bush. It delighted me and all who passed by and then one day I looked, and it was gone.
The cactus flower taught me a profound and simple lesson about leaving a legacy - give off beauty, bring delight to others, then fade into the source of all being.
I love this little Emerson quote:
To laugh often and much...
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived.
This is to have succeeded.
So today I write in my blog post. Today, I go about my daily business trying to show respect to all those people who will be helping me today - the cashier, the gym attendant, the post office clerk. Today I kiss my wife and pet my dogs. Today, I smile and pray and sit in silence as I bask in the awesome splendor of the desert in which I live.
Today I do my best to shine beautifully - to make the world a bit better while I live.
Then I will fade away and return to God.
This is my legacy.