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Monday, March 1, 2010

leaving a legacy

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out. 

This quote is from film critic and writer Roger Ebert in a recent article in Esquire.  This is a man who's reaching towards the end of his life, who's made a fair impact and will be remembered by many after he's gone, and who has accepted  with grace some serious physical issues the last couple of years.  And this statement made a serious impact on me. 

All my life I've had this obsession with being remembered after I'm gone.  I spent most of my childhood trying to differentiate myself from my three much older sisters -- they were Girl Scouts, I was a Camp Fire Girl, they played the piano, I insisted on learning the clarinet, they were, as I sometimes still think of us (and if any of my sisters are reading this, I hope they take it in the lighthearted manner I intend), the three June Cleaver clones and the one that didn't take.  They all married in their early to mid twenties and I became an aunt for the first time just before I turned fifteen.  I had acquired six niblings, as a friend calls his, by the time I was nineteen.  This was not the beginning of my determination that I did not want children of my own -- my first memory along those lines is from about age six, and I've never regretted not having them.  But it certainly didn't change my attitude, and it was definitely a part of my differentiating myself from them.

But when you don't have children, you don't have that automatic next generation that will remember you, fondly or not.  In my case, I needed (and still need) to find something to replace that, so that when I am gone, eventually, my existence on the earth won't just vanish. 

I have spent a lot of time trying to leave something positive and tangible behind.  My former line of work (I used to be a librarian) was -- problematic in this regard.  Yes, I spent most of my time helping people, but I never had anything I could point to and say, yes, there's what I did (well, except for the time I wound up in the acknowledgements in the book Winnie the Pooh on Success by Roger and Stephen Allen, but that's a long story).   I'm not sure my future line of work is going to be any better in that regard.  My hobbies, well, my last entry was a small step in that direction.

Then I run up against this quotation, and I'm not sure what to think.  It's almost as if I've had something yanked out from under me, but in a good way.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still on the hunt for things to do and make and create that will outlive me.  But I think I may change the focus of what I'm looking for a bit because of this.

So.  Do you agree with Mr. Ebert?  If you don't have children (or even if you do), what are your feelings about your own personal legacy?  And what are you doing about it?


  1. I don't think I'm worrying about a personal legacy, for now at least. It may hit later in life especially as I'm childless--but then, there are the niblings, especially those who live next door. I think I'm planting some permanent memories there. Beyond that, there are a few publications for work that will carry my name forward for a while in my little area of expertise.

    I do try to keep myself happy, and to help others be happy when I can. I hadn't regarded this as a Life Goal, though. I will think on it.

  2. I'm sure it helps that you're a lot closer (physically and otherwise) to your niblings than I am.

    And publication, yes. Haven't gotten there myself. Not yet. But I am finding some small things that I hope will outlive me. And am on the search for more.

  3. Well, I alternate between thinking "I'm helping people every day and once a week I help kitties, too!" and despair that I have no one to leave behind or to leave my Stuff (including many family antiques) to.

    It's definitely bothersome, though I certainly don't regret not having chillun of my own. (Neither of my sisters does, either.)

    Mainly, I feel that if I've done something to make the world a better place, that's a fine thing. Even if it's just a little thing.

  4. That's what I'm trying to aim for, too. I need that something to be something I can point at and say, "I did that," too, though. There's no reason I can't do that, too.

  5. I've been having thoughts along these lines lately, as well; perhaps it's our stage in life. [And maybe not just us: look at Lois wondering what Ista's next stage was going to be, & she's a bit older than we are.] We don't have any kids either. I can acquire *stuff*--none better--but then what? I was a lit. major for too many decades to get out of the habit of looking for the meaning behind the event.

    Filkers have died the last few years, & I've watched the effect on the community. It's a common custom to have a memorial circle for the person at the next iteration of a con they were associated with or other big con. For example, at the L.A. WorldCon, Marion Zimmer Bradley's daughter, an accomplished harpist & singer, led the memorial circle for Cynthia McQuillin, who had been a musical mentor for her. When Dave Alway died just after GaFilk, there was a memorial poetry circle at Confluence the following June.

    Who would have the circle for me? I'm none of the Ps: neither player, nor parent, nor pagan, nor poly, which are most of the main cliques. At cons, I kind of butterfly around, skimming from one fun thing to another. I touch lots of people, but in peripheral ways, a bad pun here, a good book rec. there.

    I know you didn't get into the Liaden series so much, but maybe we should learn to be like the Clutch Turtles, Artists of the Ephemeral, learning to live in the moment & let that be its own meaning.

  6. "I can acquire *stuff*--none better--but then what?" You sound like Miles and his "playing wall" metaphor, which is another one I've run up against in this context. Running up against brick walls has never been my favorite occupation, even when it crumbles before me.

    And "Who would have the circle for me?" Who would burn Kly's death offering? That's another one, although I've run up against it more in the context of having my medical wishes carried out in the event that I am not able to direct them myself. That one frightens me.

    You do touch a lot of people, me included. I suspect that you touch more people more profoundly than you think you do.

    Not so sure about that living in the moment thing, though, and not just because I'm not a Liaden fan [g]. Anticipation has always been more than half the fun for me.