by Craig Elliott

A few years back, my wife discovered an estate sale in a nice neighborhood near our home. The house was listed through a real estate professional, and the entire contents of the home were being sold by a company brought in to evaluate, price, and sell. The elderly gentleman had recently passed, and his wife had died a few years earlier. They never had children, and their entire estate had been willed to a local church. No one existed that could claim the inheritance. As my wife, and soon afterwards myself browsed through the beautifully appointed home, we made several purchases, including an antique bench with matching chair, a nice oriental rug, and lamps. One item really caught my attention. As a photographer, I have an appreciation for old photos, and I came across an old, framed image of a child sitting in a chair. Black and white, touched up, likely from the early part of the twentieth century. I was informed this was a portrait of the gentleman who had lived here. I purchased the framed image.

My thoughts went to the couple, childless, and now gone. How will they be remembered? When I look at the old image, I wonder if anyone else has recollections of this couple that spent so many years together. Perhaps they were pillars in the church that they generously donated their worldly things to. Are they immortalized with a plaque or a display of photos? Was a child changed forever by an encouraging word from this couple in the distant past? How do I want to be remembered?

For those with children, it becomes a bit difficult to fade away into obscurity. A parent’s legacy is often passed down to children, both possessions and values. Successful individuals can usually look at a positive influence at home when reflecting on their successes. This is not always the case, but it is difficult to overcome adversity at home. Kids will have the stories to pass down between generations, the photos will remain in the family, the videos will keep memories alive. A new generation of genealogy buffs will emerge. Treasured artifacts of the past are kept for generations; the story behind them becomes weaker and more fictional unless immortalized in writing.

Remembrance is not necessarily a positive action. The abusers are remembered for the pain they inflicted. A lack of caring for one’s family is not quickly forgotten. My experience has been for these types to be discussed less, allowing the individual to fade more into obscurity, as though he never existed. Mere remnants of information that may be gone in a generation’s time. The word potential is not a positive legacy.

When life’s goals have been achieved, events have unfolded as planned, and one dies seemingly happy but in obscurity, aren’t they a success? Certainly they won’t be categorized a failure if no one is adversely affected by their life? Does one have to positively affect others to leave a successful legacy? Writers can touch many lives through books, artists can influence through paintings and sketches, leaders can bring a profound influence upon a generation of people. What about those who live a modest life out of the spotlight, then leave their portion to an organization that uses it for the benefit of others? Did they live up to their potential, or their calling in life? Perhaps through their words and actions many have been touched, and they never were aware.

Legacies are created one small piece at a time. Some touch lives, places, and things, and leave them better than they were found. Some destroy everything they touch, and then move on when all avenues of further manipulation are exhausted. Another round of people and things to wreck. I will be remembered through my children and the future generations, either for better or for worse. Helping others reach their goals is a noble cause, and it will lead to you reaching your own goals. The impact an individual can have on their circle of influence is staggering, as it can trickle down for generations. What is my legacy? Through photographs, writing, and example to others…….