Community Matters: Leaving a legacy through community
Toward the end of last year, I spent more time in doctor’s offices than I care to remember. It started with a case of shingles that paralyzed half of my face.
Thankfully, over two months later, I have recovered about three quarters of the movement in my face, and I am hopeful that the rest will return in the coming months.
During that time, and to rule out a stroke, I had a CT scan that found what ended up being benign nodules in my lungs. Because this occurred during the holidays, it took a few weeks to get to that fortunate conclusion. Not surprisingly, my mind went to all the predictable places during that time of uncertainty.
As I was experiencing my own uncertainties, our community suffered two devastating losses from relatively young leaders who had slowly and faithfully built enviable legacies of service. Added to this, I recently met some new friends who are nearing the later stages of a long career and who are now working to understand how to turn that lifelong labor of love into a lasting legacy. This accumulation of experiences left me confronting some profound questions about what it means to leave behind a legacy worth celebrating.
If you have been reading this column over the last few months, you will not be surprised to learn that my thinking about legacies is not easily separated from how I think about community life. Increasingly, I am convinced of this: robust legacies emerge within the context of deep connections to others. And one’s lifetime can quickly become little more than a memory unless it is embedded within a robust community and an accompanying collection of practices that encourage one’s legacy to be reborn again and again within the future life of that community.
Unfortunately, pleasant memories have a relatively short shelf life. But, when memories get built into practices, processes, and institutions, those memories become something more enduring than what any one person can keep in the front of their mind. When this happens, memories get concretized and become habitual in the lives of families, organizations, and communities. Once embedded in the fabric of a community, such accumulated memories run the chance of enduring in unexpected and cross-generational ways. This, it seems to me, is where one’s life work transcends a collection of activity and begins to become a legacy.
What is the legacy I wish to leave… and can my vision bear the weight of my absence?
By nature, I have a fickle mind. This is both a weakness and a strength, I am well aware. But, in the coming months I intend to continue reflecting on the theme of building a legacy within the context of community. To guide this thinking, and inspired by recent conversations with new friends, I have been reflecting lately on four sets of questions. Here they are:
1. As precisely as I can state it, what is the legacy I wish to leave? Can I discipline myself to be specific about what I have in mind? Have I put my ideas on paper? Do I ask others to consider how well I am working toward these ends? Is my daily work guided by what I have articulated to myself and others?
2. How long do I wish for my legacy to persist? Am I working to build a legacy for my children? My grandchildren? For generations, or even multiple generations? Am I hoping to effect change in and across organizations or within and among communities?
3. How much control do I hope to exact over that legacy? Do I wish for my legacy to unfold organically? Or do I hope that my life’s work perpetuates specific habits, practices, ways of relating to others, and organizational structures even after I am gone?
4. What resources am I leaving behind to help ensure that my legacy persists? Am I actively generating the kinds of resources (monetary, relational, intellectual) that make it more likely that my legacy can be supported beyond my lifetime? Can my vision bear the weight of my absence?
Few of us will have as much time as we prefer to craft a legacy, and most of us will wait until later than we should have to think about such matters. I am increasingly convinced that it is worth working to push back against these tendencies. The future health of all of our communities hinges on acting purposefully in the present, doing our best to labor in ways that keep the future firmly in mind. Doing so, I strongly suspect, will help to ensure that more of us leave enduring legacies that are worth celebrating and perpetuating for generations to come. And, without a doubt, the communities we serve will be far better off because of it.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.