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Monday, October 24, 2016

What You Leave Behind


Everyone must leave something behind when we die, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way...and when people look at that flower you planted, you're there...It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hand away.”
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

I wonder whether you're like me and attach memories to objects. I have a berry-bowl, white with strawberries on it, chipped and barely recognizable. It belonged to my former mother-in-law. I think of it simply as “Sara's bowl,” and remember her every time I pull it out to rinse berries. I have quilts, now shredded from age, made by my great-aunts, Lyda and Bess, and a baby afghan crocheted by my grandmother, Mayda. Now and then, I find swatches of fabric left over from dresses my grandmother, Mama, made for me as a child. I have my dad's dress jacket from when he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy during World War II. I have no actual use for these things other than the fact that they contain memories of someone I loved.

With Aunt Lane's death, I am reminded of what it means to leave a legacy. To have touched something so deeply, that it holds a little piece of you forever. A friend told me about a woman-friend of his, who traveled to Africa, and was introduced to children who live in a orphanage. She was so moved by their plight, that she came home and raised money to support first a few children, and now, the entire orphanage. Recently, I wrote about the donations of bird-seed that poured into the hospice house my aunt was in after her daughter, Anne, posted on Facebook that staff were footing the bill for it. The first donations amounted to 120 pounds; since Lane's death on Friday, 200 pounds more have arrived. People leave their mark on this world—an indelible impression that carries forward for as long as other people remember. That's true for good, or for ill.

Ray Bradbury first published Fahrenheit 451 in 1953—people are still reading it, still quoting from it. You could say it changed the zeitgeist of a nation. So many other names could be mentioned—too many for listing here, but you have your own list of long-gone people, whose work, or words, or kindness changed your life. The difference between a lawn-cutter and a real gardener, Ray Bradbury wrote, “is in the touching.” What we touch with our hands, and with our hearts, what we give ourselves fully to, is imbued with our spirit. And, that spirit is immortal. It will stand as a reminder of the lives we've lived for a long, long time. What will your legacy be?

                                                         In the Spirit,

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