Leave a Legacy

We choose ‘leaving a legacy’ as our final topic of the season for the Character Session we do before every football game and once again the various parts of my life all wove together to reveal an awesome message. Being a High School Football Coach and the FCA Huddle Coach combined with the experiences I have in the business world have provided me with a viewpoint that I trust has meaning to the players as well as it strengthens my own faith.

Ordinary things – days, events, people, etc. – without something noteworthy tied to them will fade from memory and become part of the blur. Outside of a handful of family and friends it will never be remembered. What can’t be remembered is forgotten; what is forgotten never gets deposited into our memory banks; what doesn’t get deposited is that which does not strike a chord.

Extraordinary things are another story. There is no generic definition of extraordinary, noteworthy or ‘big’ that guarantees something being memorable. But one thing is for certain – to qualify it has to strike a chord. Anything that strikes a chord will be remembered longer than usual. If it really strikes a chord it can remember it forever. Striking a chord is leaving a legacy. What qualifies as striking a chord is subject to the relative context it occurs in; the environment, background, situation and perspective.

Winning the state championship does not necessarily make a team memorable or cause it to leave a legacy; the same with making a ‘big’ play or being a hero. We talk about a recent 6-4 team leaving as big a legacy at the 12-1 team because that team changed the culture of the football program creating the foundation for future teams to build on. We had a manager on this year’s football team who passed away due to health reasons and his presence in the one month (out of the 630+ months I have lived) moving me and leaving a legacy.

It is important to note that success is not the standard for leaving a legacy; significance is. From Robert S. McGee’s book The Search for Significance he lists Satan’s formula for self worth as the combination of Performance plus the Opinion of Others – neither one we have direct control over. I have heard said that success is when results exceed expectations, but who sets those expectations (others – coaches, bosses, Wall Street, etc.) and often uncontrollable factors significantly influence results. As Robin Sharma, author of 12 global best sellers, is quoted as saying Success is wonderful but significance is even better. As individuals we were created and put here to make a difference, contribute and leave a mark on the people around you.

My analogy of leaving a legacy is like the wake behind a boat. The wake that is left behind a boat exists as a result of the water being moved by the boat, actually the term is displaced. The wake (legacy) is there as a result of the boat (event, you) moved or displaced what was around you (others). What moves your mind, heart, or soul can leave a legacy within you. Consider a book you read, movie you saw or song you heard that moved you – it left a legacy. A great example is Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech.

Consider the wake left behind an aircraft carrier – a lot of displacement occurs which creates a huge wake and a significant trail. We all have people in our lives, my Dad in my case, who are like an aircraft carrier that leaves a longer lasting legacy. Remember the scene in the movie Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks, who is playing astronaut Jim Lovell, talks about an experience he had with the wake of an aircraft carrier. He was a Navy pilot coming back from a mission and he has lost all guidance and his radio; had no way to find the aircraft carrier. Just when he thought things were bad it got worse as he lost all electricity in the cockpit – it went dark. So he is sitting there alone, lost and surrounded by total darkness. It is then he sees the wake of the aircraft carrier – because of the volume of displacement and the ocean being churned it had a fluorescent glow that could only be seen because he was in total darkness. It was the legacy left from something so voluminous which caused significant movement that it became the guiding path to someone lost and in darkness. My father has left that trail for me to follow.

The Gospel at Mass today was The Parable of the Talents from Matthew (25:14-30). Servants were entrusted with talents, each according to his ability. When the Master returns he wants to learn what the servants have done with the talents they received. What significance did they make of the talents they were given. Every year I hear this gospel, but this year the phrase “each according to his ability” stuck out and it resonated with the thoughts that were fresh in my head about leaving a legacy and the relative context of what is significant, noteworthy – it doesn’t matter if it is one or five talents, the number isn’t important. Then in the midst of those thoughts one of my favorite quotes emerges – “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”, words from St. Catherine of Siena.

Historians tell us that two plagues swept through the Roman Empire in the first couple of centuries after the life of Christ, both while Christians were being horribly persecuted. The second of these was the Plague of Cyprian where one document says that in Rome as many as 5,000 were dying per day. The epidemic filled the people with terror. It was so devastating that when the first symptoms appeared some villages simply emptied out, leaving the sick behind. There was no cure. There was no hope. So they left sick family members in their beds and ran for their lives.

But Christians didn’t run. They stayed and brought water to the sick. They fed them. They changed their bandages. They spoke kindly to them. They loved and encouraged them. And they got sick in the process. Jesus wouldn’t have left the sick to fend for themselves, so they did what Jesus would have done. There’s no record of how many people were saved because Christians served, nor how many Christians lost their lives because they stayed behind. But the world is different today because in the middle of devastating despair – we might even call it overwhelming darkness – those who followed Christ saw their opportunity to shine. People could not ignore the actions of people who loved God so passionately that they would be willing to give up their lives in service to God. They left a legacy that Jesus began of love-filled action that leads to salvation. This is why the Roman Empire changed so dramatically. Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and the growth of a Christian ruling class under Constantine ensured the faith’s increasing and enduring prominence through the Roman, and later Byzantine, Empire.

Be intentional about leaving a legacy. Create displacement to those around you, even through small acts. Build your legacy by adding value to everyone you deal with and leaving the world a better place in the process. Your legacy is putting your stamp on the future. It’s a way to make some meaning of your existence: “Yes, world of the future, I was here. Here’s my contribution, here’s why my life mattered.”

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