Last year my family buried two cornerstone members – my uncle and grandfather – withing six months of each other. Through their deaths I learned a great deal about the “legacy” one leaves behind. When your Earthly body leaves, your essence remains. Without you, your loved ones are left with everything people remember you to be. Those who only know of you are left with that impression only.
With each funeral, our family sat down with the pastor and we were asked the same question. “If you could describe this man with one word what would it be?”
For my uncle, who was my father figure for more than half my life, I said “selfless”. His legacy is in what he did for others, often times in spite of himself. His band members, his friends, his coworkers, and his family will all remember him for what he gave.
When asked that question about my grandfather, my brother said “manners”. The room erupted in laughter because it is indeed true. Our entire lives my grandfather tried to ensure that we were the most polite beings on the planet. You simply could not enter a room without “good morning”, “good evening”, or “good night”. He took off his hat indoors, he held doors open, pulled out chairs for my Grandma, he was (and will be remembered) a classic English gentleman.
If someone where to ask me the same question about Joe Paterno (a man I admittedly did not know personally) my word would be “iniquitous”. This is a man I knew nothing of, until late last year when the scandal at Penn State became headline news. But when I did learn of him, and when he’d been accused of ignoring, it left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
After all, Mr. Paterno himself hadn’t been the one accused of indecent acts. But in the end he was fired in the end for his silence. Many will argue that it was justifiable, others will disagree citing his many contributions to the football team at Penn State. For all the good that he did, for all his accomplishments, in the end I will remember him for his “hear no evil, see no evil” attitude toward child molestation. And no matter how hard his PR wheel spins, millions of other Americans will remember this man the same way.
We all leave behind a legacy that takes on it’s own life after our Earthly presence has come to an end. What will your one word be?