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Can we ever know the legacy we leave behind?

Luba Kassova | July 25, 2023
Can we ever know the legacy we leave behind? Can we ever know the legacy we leave behind?
What is the positive legacy we leave behind? This is a question that was posed to someone I love by a guru at a summer retreat high up in the mountains of Europe. The question was not open or exploratory however; it was followed by a closed definitive answer, leaving no room for doubt or imagination. 
“Getting married and having children. This is the most important legacy we must leave behind,” was the guru’s verdict. My loved one, being neither married nor having had children, felt blackballed and ostracised. And if that certainty of judgement wasn’t enough, the guru went on to add: “Those who are not married and do not have children are condemned to permanent loneliness.” A statement so extraordinary in its cruelty that it burned a hole in the heart of my loved one and the 25% or so of the other retreat attendees whose circumstances were similar. 
In case you wonder when this story took place, it wasn’t in the early 20th century; it was just last week. Following this experience, which was supposed to rejuvenate, reenergise and bring direction to all those taking part, my loved one spent the day crying in bed, lamenting their unclear legacy. 
As someone who is married and has children whom I adore, I started wondering: what is the positive legacy we leave behind and can we ever know it? Can we sit down, fold our hands, relax and rejoice in the knowledge that we have sorted out our legacy once we have got married and produced children? Does it matter how kind these children grow up to be?  Or what kind of relationship we have with our life partner? Does the mere act of marriage and parenthood make us more legacy-rich that someone who has not completed these socially- revered milestones? Is it possible to find meaning and feel fulfilled without these two life experiences? I bet it is!  
Rewind more than two decades and I am feeling lost and extremely low. I have recently lost a very close friend who was senselessly killed by a faulty boiler at the young age of 20. I see little meaning in life when it can be snatched so momentarily and mercilessly. I don’t bother studying for my university exams, I can’t sleep, I watch a lot of daytime TV. I judge myself harshly for being lazy and directionless, as does my father. I do not know yet that I am depressed. I am sinking. My loved one, who will go on to attend the retreat decades later, comes to my rescue. They show more compassion than anyone else in my life ever had at that point in time. They tell me that it is ok to feel the way I feel, that it will pass, that many others feel the same and that I need help. They suggest that I may be depressed. They help me find a support group. Gradually I get better and within months find meaning in my life again. Thanks to the kindness, honesty and resourcefulness of this person, I am back on my feet: I pass my exams with high marks, I start dreaming about my future, I start sleeping better.
Is this part of my story part of the positive legacy of my loved one? It certainly is! How many similar stories are locked away in their legacy bank? My guess is - more than they know or remember… 
We can be pivotal in someone’s life without even realising it. Part of life’s magic is that we will never know all the lives we have touched or even turned for the better, all the smiles we gifted to those who were quietly crying inside, helping them to move forward that day; all the words we uttered or wrote that explained or dislodged a pain that someone felt. We may never find out the positive impact that even cutting ties with someone who needed to face life without us had on their path. The scenarios are infinite. 
The answer to the question of what positive legacy we leave behind is held not in our circumstances, but in our intent and day-to-day behaviours. Married or not, children or not, it is our intention to do good in the world and our behaviours that determine the legacy we leave behind. This can be manifested in thousands of different ways that connect us to those around us. And in every breath we take, we share atoms with every single human being ever born on the planet before us and those who will be born after us. If that isn’t positive legacy, what is?

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