What’s In A Legacy?

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“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

-Benjamin Franklin.

 I’ve come to acknowledge the fact that there is no good time to receive bad news. But boy, there are times worse than others. For instance early in the day when you’ve only just shaken off morning nerves, or late at night when you’re so deep in sleep a horde of mosquitoes couldn’t possibly get you to wake.

A few months before the turn of last year, I received such kind of news just as I was bedding in to milk those final few minutes between pre-morning prayers (Fajr) and when I finally get ready for school. One of my cousins had been involved in a fatal accident and had died on scene. He was one of those cousins who seemed half a generation older than you so he was in fact succeeded by a wife and a couple of (very young) kids. Like my father, he spent most of his days on the road, driving cargo trucks to Uganda and back.

We had never spent a lot of time together, truth be told, just the occasional visits to their home during Eids and most recently a few months before his death while I was travelling with my father. My dad on the other hand, seemed to know him like the back of his hand. Which is why it puzzled me how calm his voice was, in the face of such tragic news, when I talked with him later that day. So I, indirectly, put the question to him and he simply sighed, ‘That’s just life.’ That’s just life. Life. Death. And a string thinner than silk strand to hold one aloft and keep it from plunging into the other.

Just imagine that! One moment someone’s here, the next they’re gone! Adios! Goodbye for good. Whatever brilliant ideas they held in their brains, whatever beautiful thoughts they once conceived gone with them. That life force and energy is no more, we can no longer tap into that and share stories, concerns and laughs with anymore. A few months later no one will even remember them…unless of course they left behind a legacy.

When most people hear the word legacy, thoughts of heroic acts, juggernaut corporate empire, a mind-numbing scientific discovery or a large estate including mansions in different countries springs into their minds. Sure that’s one way to etch your name in the minds of people for as long as there is an earth to live on, but the truth is, a legacy can be much simpler than that.

The purpose of life for those of us who are religious is simple: worship God. And while this may sound a bit vague for the not-so-religious, there is actually a lot that is entailed within that single statement. It includes doing right by oneself by leading a good healthy life, reaching out to those around with an open mind and a clean heart, helping those in need at the expense of one’s own comfort, inspiring others to improve themselves spiritually and otherwise, in other words being the best possible humans anyone could ever be. That’s the bare minimum legacy we should aim for.

The opposite of that is what breeds wars among men. Sure we’re humans, we’re prone to err. We step on people’s feet every once in a while because we are not perfect. Once we decide to do it purposefully however and make a habit of it, that’s when we create a legacy that leaves much to be desired.

Over the past two years, i’ve had to attend funerals of friends and relatives who were more or less my own age. But if there is any lesson I learned from that, it is not that we should fear death, for it is inevitable regardless of age that but we should worry about the legacy we want to be remembered by.

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