Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Lasting Legacy

"In the Moment"

Yesterday I had a conversation with a good friend and former parishioner of mine. He asked me what I thought was my "lasting legacy" in the parish that I had once served? What had I done in that parish for which I will always be remembered? 

I was sort of surprised at how unnerved that conversation left me. 

What indeed was my lasting legacy either in that parish or in any of the many other places I had served over my years as a priest?   How would I be remembered? Would they remember that it was "me" who started up all those programs and ministries? Would they remember that it was "me" who was responsible for those building renovations?  What would they all remember about me? 

When I woke up this morning, I felt surprisingly refreshed.  I had finally come to the conclusion that I would have no lasting legacy anywhere I had ever been. In fact none of us ever leaves behind a lasting legacy. 

This realization has left me remarkably unburdened and relieved. 

In my"legacy refection" yesterday, I remembered a picture of me that hangs on a hallway wall in a parish I served several years ago.  It hangs there alongside the faces of other priests who also served there, most of them long-dead. 

As I thought about that picture, I imagined people passing by it in that hallway. Most of those passing by would have likely never met me, after all it was a long time ago. In my fantasy, I imagine some folks glancing at that picture as they pass by it in that hallway and saying something like, "yeah I think he was the priest here back about 25 years ago. I guess he's probably still alive - not sure." 

I am struck with the realization that not only will people not remember my accomplishments. They won't even remember who I was or who I am. 

 I am just not that important. I never was.  No one is. And, I find great freedom in realizing this.

The Buddha taught:

All things are impermanent.
When one sees this with wisdom,
one turns away from suffering.

In the reality of things, each and every one of is but a passing shadow.  Most of us lead our everyday lives, doing the best we can, contributing what we are able to wherever we find ourselves in life -hopefully making the world a better place because of what we do. We come into this life for a brief time and then we pass into the greater flow of life. 

This realization is a great wisdom that does indeed turn me away from suffering. When I understand the impermanence of it all, I loosen my vice-like grip on life and find deep peace as I move along in the gentle flow. 

The belief that "I" am so important that I will leave a lasting legacy that everyone will always remember is nothing but a fantasy, a narcissistic illusion. 

As I think about it, in one sense there may be one way to leave behind some sort of "lasting legacy. " In the various places where I have been in my life, my legacy isn't my accomplishments. My legacy isn't the fond memories people may have of me. My legacy is the effect my life may have had on the lives of others.

If the people whose lives I have touched have found some degree of new insight, deeper peace or greater joy, if they are living with greater hope or embracing the world with more open arms because of what I may have said or done- that is my gift, the lasting legacy that I have left behind.  And it doesn't make any difference at all if they don't even know who I am. 

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