A fellow in his 70s I know has started giving serious consideration to how much time he has left on planet earth. That’s always an important topic of meditation and sometimes the results can be life-altering.
In his case, it led him to reconsider his “legacy” and examine just what he has accomplished to date. Since the average life expectancy is hovering around 77.69 for men in Connecticut, he still has some time left, by my reckoning. But who knows how much time there’s left on the clock by God’s reckoning?
A glance at the morning’s obituaries is proof of that. Here today, gone tomorrow and soon forgotten.
This fellow is considering several options to ensure that his memory endures, including an annual award or scholarship fund that will last long after he is gone. He even briefly thought about having a university building named after himself until he discovered it can cost $25 million and up, depending on the institution. Hey, it’s a costly endeavor to have your name live on in history, or infamy, or wherever you want it to live.
When he told me his plans, I began thinking about my own legacy and the possibilities ran through my head. Since I still have weddings to pay for, there will be no building, scholarship or deli sandwich in my honor. Furthermore, I’m too old to go after the Nobel Prize in Literature although I won first place in the PTA Poetry Contest when I was in eighth grade.
I recently saw a list of the most famous people in history, which included everyone from Bill Clinton to Saddam Hussein and John Lennon, not to mention Albert Einstein and Karl Marx. Fortunately, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian didn’t make the cut.
What did these people leave behind and why were they remembered? Some were famous, others were infamous. Some left the world a better place and for some, the world would have been a better place if they had never been born.
I suspect that Jesus looks at things a lot differently than we do. Much of what society considers important and precious just doesn’t matter to him. Where would these “famous” people be on Jesus’ list of the most important people? Would they even make the list? He wasn’t very big on fame and celebrity, and more than once he encouraged us to take the lowest seat at the table because he who humbles himself will be exalted and he who exalts himself will be humbled.
Will the people the world honors be honored in Jesus’ kingdom? Or did they waste their lives pursuing power and prestige and entirely miss the point about what is essential? What is important to society is not what is important to Christ, and we should be living our lives to please Christ, not popular opinion.
In the end, the only things that endure are acts of love and kindness and compassion for the sake of Jesus, not scholarships or fellowships or Nobel Prizes or Pulitzer Prizes or Powerball winnings.
That’s what concerns me about this fellow who is pondering how to make himself immortal in the world’s eyes. His priorities are a bit confused, and in the years – or days – that remain, he should be spending his time and efforts focusing on Christ instead of increasing his prestige and notoriety.
Each day, he should be asking Christ, “Lord what would you have me do? What’s your will for me? Help me to live it.”
If we begin by turning our day over to Christ and making ourselves available to do his will, he’ll lead us where we’re meant to go ... and our legacy will be a great one, far more prodigious than anything we could conceive. Our legacy, if it’s built on acts of love for our neighbor and for God, will last forever.
If the last ones will be first, I imagine the most famous people in heaven won’t look anything like the most famous people on earth. The little ladies who stay after daily Mass to pray the rosary will be higher in the pecking order than the world politicians and Wall Street power brokers and Hollywood celebrities. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful twist?
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.