No Legacies for Me, Thanks…

I wrote a poem a long time ago that went like this:

The man without the camera
Walks entirely on rocks.

There was more, maybe, but I don’t remember what.

I’d learned from a friend that he had been in Saudi Arabia and taught for a year but never took a single photo of his time there.

I thought that was kind of cool and it inspired a poem.

The thought is the opposite of the quote by Maya Angelou on todays Ragtag Daily Prompt. The man who walks on rocks has no record of where he has been and the earth has none either. What’s his legacy? I remember what I was thinking at the time, sometime in late 80s, and that was that I wasn’t going to accomplish great things after all. I was at THAT moment in life. I was learning to be cool with the idea that I was just a face in the crowd.

“Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased…” is a dangerous — possibly irresponsible — admonition. The easiest way to do that is through destruction. Building something meaningful can take a lifetime. Even then, the future is going to do whatever it wants with it. One’s legacy — no matter how beautiful — is never going to wander through time unscathed.

I don’t know what else Maya Angelou had to say in the printed world from which this quotation was extracted, but no. Don’t live so you leave a legacy. Live so you have had a LIFE. The future will do whatever it wants with whomever you were and whatever you did.

16 thoughts on “No Legacies for Me, Thanks…

  1. Something about this reminded me of Kevin and his sister going through box after box of photographs after their mother died. Most ended up in the trash because they couldn’t recognize the people in them. Kevin and Cheryl felt bad, but the photos showed how their mother had lived…rejoicing in the people around her through her camera.

    • My neighbor’s sister found an old photo album in the dump in Salida. It’s full of fascinating photographs from WW I. No idea who the people are, but the world the photos capture is fantastic, unposed and real.

  2. Yes, legacies aren’t self-made. Bonnie Raitt’s song captures it perfectly: “…forget those movies you saw…it’s just the luck of the draw.”

  3. To be perfectly honest (and why not be), this is scary. To leave this world without leaving a mark – just disappearing without a trace (?) – is unsettling to me. Perhaps it feeds into my nightmares about getting lost! However, not to anguish over leaving a legacy could be freeing. My ancestors (who I knew personally) left a legacy so to speak for me in their letters and photos – but mostly in their stories – that I carry in memory. Much food for thought in this post.
    (I don’t worry about the monetary version of legacy – that’s not happening. Our one time financial advisor was a tad shocked we weren’t planning to leave a $ legacy for future generations 😀)

    • I think if you have kids (I don’t) it’s another question completely. I had a lot of big aspirations and people telling me that I “…could really DO something” but no one ever told me what that was. 😀 Kind of sadistic in a way…

      Maybe everyone’s life is a journey of discovery. When, after realizing that my best novel had been submitted way too early in its “life,” and even after it was edited to its current form it was riddled with mistakes on every single page, I let go of the whole thing of “doing something.” It’s an amazing novel and it was an incredible rewarding beautiful experience writing it. It turned out that’s enough “something” for me. I hope I was a good teacher; I hope I’ve been a good friend; I hope when I go I won’t have made the world worse by being here. I’ve written all my stories — they’re there for anyone who wants to read them. 🙂

  4. What a gift to give oneself, Martha. That letting go and then acceptance of what a life’s work has led to. 🙂 Yes, a good writer, teacher, friend – all a legacy right? Having kids does change – actually complicate – the question – and the answers – about “legacy” and purpose. I guess I could add “I hope I’ve been a good parent” to your list.

  5. I worked for a researcher who was obsessed with creating a legacy. He turned 50 and had a near melt down because he hadn’t made that single life defining discovery/breakthrough. It was an eye opener for me. I’ve never considered that life would be incomplete without a legacy or monument to my life… Living life to its fullest is the best course.

  6. I used to work in community radio, as did my brother before me. When asked to write brief memoirs about it, we both used variations on the word “ephemeral” to talk about why we liked it. Once we did it and it went out over the airwaves, it was gone. You heard it or you didn’t. We didn’t save recordings. I never had a camera for my longest trips. If I can’t remember something, too bad. I see too many people filter their experience through a lens and discount everything that isn’t recorded. (I have since gotten a camera and a phone with a camera in it…so I’m not a purist.

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