We hear a lot these days about legacy. People say they want to leave behind legacies in their professions, families, churches, and other venues. What they typically mean is that they want to leave behind a positive reputation coupled with some sort of tangible or semi-tangible attribution. They want to be remembered as significant workplace contributors who fostered organizational growth and prosperity, beneficent parents who amassed wealth for their children's inheritance, upstanding Christians whom others credit with prominent church programs or building projects, or philanthropists who have favorably influenced society in sundry ways, maybe even earning recognition by having their names attached to streets, buildings, scholarships, or other enduring social entities. Unfortunately, people rarely consider the simple matter of kindness when they ponder legacy. That is to say, legacy is most often envisaged as something of much greater import than recollected acts of goodwill and affection.
My maternal grandfather was a simple man. He had only the most basic formal education, he didn't make a great deal of money, he wasn't politically active, he didn't harbor influential friends, and he possessed all of the faults and failures we humans have. In terms of legacy-leavers, he was an unlikely candidate in most people's eyes. However, his kindness shined like none other. My grandfather could always be counted on for a good laugh, a gentle word, and personal attention. He was humble, wise, and tenderhearted. He was our family's patriarch--a man whom we completely trusted because he was worthy of our trust. Sure, there were times when I saw his anger, frustrations, and humanity peak through, but these derelictions were always in the context of a life defined by a kindly and loving spirit.
I often times wonder how well I'm demonstrating the virtue of kindness to those around me. Far too often, I'm consumed by the legacies that don't matter...about being remembered in particular ways and for particular "things" by co-workers, family members, or fellow churchgoers. But what about simple kindness? Am I leaving that legacy for my children and friends? Well, I guess you'd have to ask them, but sometimes I don't think I'd want to hear the answer. How about you?