Round at a friend’s house, weeding her flowerbeds on a sunny morning with a stiff cold wind. After an hour she is clanging her outdoor bell to summon me to tea and chocolate biscuits. She’s been watching a TV show in which teams try to find the beneficiaries of people who die without having left a will, often not knowing that they still have living relations.
My friend has prepared her will long since, and so have I. All the same, this gets us talking about whom we have chosen to benefit from any assets we leave after we die, and indeed the people (spouse in her case, parents in mine) who looked after our future needs when writing their wills.
Then we get on to discussing, again, relationships between siblings: a theme I often return to, not just with her. And the lasting sadness in families where siblings are estranged, or children do not know their cousins, or spouses turn against their partner’s parents, or parents against their children’s partners. Or indeed, when children suffer abuse at the hand of a parent, as in this link to a friend’s poignant blogpost entitled ‘Motherly’ love, written as a response to my recent blog mother’s day writing reTreat .
Home again , pulling speedwells and cutting back old growth on shrubs, I ponder a question posed by a life coach to her clients:
when you look back on your life,
what will have been your legacy in this world?
Not talking of stocks, shares and profits. Not even talking about the granting to a child the proceeds from selling a retirement home. Asking rather, how would the world have been the poorer, if you had not been through it? Whose life has been lightened, or lit, by the energy of the torch that we have carried?
I have invited similar enquiries in career counselling, as a means of revealing inner passions and dreams and re-aligning pathways. I have used variants of it on myself, particularly by using the classic book ‘What Colour is your Parachute? ‘ by Richard Nelson Bolles (1927-2017), when I took my first steps back into the job market after having a child, and ‘Life Chances and Changes’ by Dina Glouberman, which included visualisation as a way of imaging the path to a future potential and possibility.
What do you bring, what might you
still bring, to the Party?
More recently I have explored this theme in books about living a fulfilling and vibrant third-age-of-life (such as ‘The Artist’s Way in Retirement’ by Julia Cameron, with part of p 73 shown here)
and about dying well and richly (returning to the classic ‘One Year to Live’ by Stephen Levine, which was incidentally my introduction to Buddhist meditation in the 1990s). There are many other resources in both genres: these were my gateways.
Now I realise that I found all these books fascinating because they helped me to be open and curious about a very important person in my life: myself. Even though a chant of the ‘Elf’ patrol – at Brownie Guides in the 1960s – was: “This is what we do as Elves:/ think of others, not ourselves”, I have learned (the hard way) that decades of self-denigration and self-reproach aren’t the best grounding for legacy-buiding,
Knowing how truly to love ourselves and esteem our best efforts, as well as having a similar kindly attitude to each and every other that we encounter, seems to be a tenet of most altruistic and spiritual journeys, including the way to psychological integration. Such practices underpin the Metta Bhavana in Buddhism, and the Golden Rule taught by Jesus of Nazareth.
Striving to live alongside, and by, such practices may well present to us a path through the legacy of hundreds of generations of human relationships (some wonderful, some excruciating, and most in-between). And thus coming towards peace with ourselves, our families, and our wilder world, we might just be able to leave a legacy of experience that is a true gift to those whose lives we touch.
Now try this exercise, emerging from
my group sessions with
‘Writing for Well-being’
In your ThoughtBook or Journal: write out and finish these sentences:
Today I guess that the legacy of my parents to me may have been …
Today I feel that my legacy to the world has been …
Today I hope that my future legacy to the world can be …
Today I want to improve my legacy to people and planet by …
I am grateful for inheriting these qualities and life-gifts from my childhood carers:
Today I am grateful for these additional blessings:
Now put aside these writings, to read again another day. You may like to notice whether your experiences, aspirations, and appreciations change day by day, year by year.
To donate a few pounds to Toilet Twinning via my Golden Giving page, click here
And finally, sent to me last week by my poetry-redistributing friend John (whose legacy to me is a new world of poets and poetry, delivered just at the right times):
from The Shape of Time
You aren’t better than anyone.
You aren’t worse than anyone.
You have been given the world.
See what there is to see.
Protect what is around you,
hold who is there beside you.
All creatures in their own way
The question isn’t
how to be in style
how to live in truth
in the face of all the winds?
With mindfulness, courage,
how to remain brave
when the spirit fails?
Idleness is often empowering,
just as the moon gradually
grows full once again,
a battery surely and
so everything, everyone
must have a time for self—
for mirth and laziness
time to be human.
translated from Estonian by Tiina Aleman
From the collection ‘Being Human’, edited by Neil Astley, published by