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What would your legacy be?

The local downtown (such as it is) features a series of tiny parks — just green squares, really, maybe with a badly carved and crumbling wooden statue. Each of these parkettes is named after somebody. Always somebody I’ve never head of. Usually somebody even local old-timers can’t remember. In one case (I know because the plaque says so) it’s a man who owned a print shop that lasted until 1936.

These sad plaques attempting to honor forgotten people got me thinking about legacies. Getting something named after you is usually supposed to be a tribute (not always, as in the notorious and NSFW case of Rick Santorum), but it almost seems as if it’s a guarantee of obscurity.

Oh, I don’t doubt that the men and women behind the eponymous parkettes were once vital members of the community. To whatever extent they actually contributed to the place and didn’t just do politics, I salute them even though I’ll never know who the hell they were. Still, the whole getting-stuff-named-after-you business is, IMHO, strictly to be avoided. Definitely a very poor way to ensure a legacy.

At best, it makes you seem boringly institutionalized. They do not name parks, bridges, and public buildings after Beat poets, guitar-smashing rockers, or psychedelic drug gurus. At worst, it tells the world you were a monumentally corrupt porker.

And legacies can be unpredictable. You may want to be remembered for one thing, then by accident of history become a legacy laughingstock. Even folks who are lucky enough to get a chance to exert some “legacy control” during their lifetimes, might still be grossed out by the outcome.

So as I say, I got to thinking. About legacies. I have some ideas about what I’d like my legacy to be (assuming I have one), and on how I hope it’s expressed. Of course, that’s largely up to the Fates. But thinking about how one would like to be remembered can make a difference in the choices we make and the way we live.

So what about you? What would you like your legacy to be? And what are you doing toward building the legacy you hope for? Use the comment section if you want to or keep it to yourself — but give it some real thought.

Please forget stuff like “I’d like to be remembered as the woman who found a cure for cancer” unless you’re really working on it. No “I want to be the man who led the world to eternal peace.” That’s hooey.

You being you and your life being what it is — or what you can make it — what legacy do you hope for?


  1. Water Lily
    Water Lily July 28, 2011 12:51 pm

    I hope it will be a novel or two, if I ever get them done, lol. I’d be happy if people remembered me as one of their good friends, and a person who was kind to animals. That’s more than enough for me.

  2. Joel
    Joel July 28, 2011 12:58 pm

    I won’t be remembered very long after I die. I do want the people I knew to occasionally think fondly of me – perhaps wish I’d bathed a bit more frequently – and maybe, once in a while, raise a glass. Other than that I really don’t give much of a damn. After all, I’m dead and that cancer cure thing never worked out.

    Though it’d be a hoot if, twenty minutes after my death, my novels suddenly took the hell off and nobody knew where to send the royalties.

  3. Matt, another
    Matt, another July 28, 2011 1:47 pm

    I’m content with the legacy of two daughters well raised and one wife well loved. Don’t need nothing else.

  4. -s
    -s July 28, 2011 1:59 pm

    Please, not a statue!

    “It’s my estimation that… every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.”

    -Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, Firefly

  5. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear July 28, 2011 2:21 pm

    I would have settled for being remembered now. But children would have been nice.

    Joel said: “Though it’d be a hoot if, twenty minutes after my death, my novels suddenly took the hell off and nobody knew where to send the royalties.”

    Heh. I actually had a conversation regarding that recently (correspondent was talking about books that became popular after the author’s death). As it stands now, Vin S’s “the brunette” is slated to get posthumous rights to my books. That’ll teach her.

  6. Jake MacGregor
    Jake MacGregor July 28, 2011 2:43 pm

    i have had 2 amazing dogs, 1 cat who thought she is a dog, 1 awesome horse, 6 of 7 children that i like, friends in low places and a loving wife who never gave up on me

    that is enough

  7. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty July 28, 2011 4:04 pm

    I sincerely hope that my children and grandchildren will eventually add to the sum total of liberty and justice in this world, somehow. That would be legacy enough. At the very least I’ll be remembered for a little while as the stubborn little old lady gunslinger in Wyoming. 🙂

  8. junker
    junker July 28, 2011 4:43 pm

    What a hoot. Dead’s dead.

    Preachers get money for preaching.
    Politicians get money for promising, called politicking.

  9. Sam
    Sam July 28, 2011 5:54 pm

    What MamaLiberty said. Well, except the “little old lady” part.

    Maybe for me: “At the very least I’ll be remembered for a little while as the stubborn DOM gunslinger in Oregon.” :o)

    DOM- Dangerous Old Man (a term used by the British during the Revolutionary war referring to our older forefathers that just would not quit). Yeah, I like that.

  10. Michael
    Michael July 28, 2011 6:19 pm

    I’d like to have a privately built, owned and maintained road named after me that’s not in Somalia.

  11. naturegirl
    naturegirl July 28, 2011 6:30 pm

    After a lifetime of staying under the radar and going to great lengths to not call attention to myself (or my life) it seems a contradiction to expect a legacy to pop up……or maybe I should say, if a legacy happens – than whomever came up with it missed the point…..

  12. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com July 28, 2011 8:20 pm

    >They do not name parks, bridges, and public buildings after Beat poets…

    Obviously, Claire, you have never been to Galesburg, Illinois.

    ..and a College, and a pond, and a street, and a library…

    I have to say that the type of person that cares too much about their legacy always seem to be attracted like flies to sh!# to the profession of poly-ticks.

    Somewhere along Skyline Drive, our public park workers placed one of those historical markers. On it, there was a photo of a hardscrabble little mountain home. The text told the tail of an old woman that was allowed to live out the rest of her life in her own home after the gov’mint came along and did the eminent domain standard mischief. Notably absent were the tales of all the folk forcefully moved off their land because they had kids and FDR liked to flyfish nearby and worried a bit too much about his legacy to let his presidency pass by without a monument to himself.

    Bill Clinton cared so much about his own legacy that near the end of his presidency he name dropped a MIA vet from the gulf war thought to be possibly alive and a POW. I can only figure his timing was a desperate attempt to increase his own stature. I also have to wonder what he squandered in goodwill and bribes to get himself in a picture, standing slightly elevated, while two mortal enemies from the middle-east shook hands for the camera. I also seem to recall him having a big dog-and-pony show for the press upstairs at the white house while in another room in the basement, a minion read a prepared statement (which was agreed to as a plea bargain, along with disbarment) that admitted that the president had committed perjury.

    Exibit C is Roland-Burris’s mausoleum and monument to himself, already pre-etched with the state seal of Illinois and listing his many accomplishments.

  13. Claire
    Claire July 28, 2011 8:44 pm

    I suppose you have a point on the naming, Standard Mischief. In some places, people even name things after cannibals:

    But … things named after a Beat poet in Galesburg, Illinois? Huh? I googled Galesburg and some of the terms you used and all I came up with was a whole lot of stuff related to Carl Sandburg — who was most definitely not one of the Beats! Very mainstream as poets go. I expect there are things named after Robert Frost somewhere, too. Or Ted Hughes. Not talking about those guys.

  14. bumperwack
    bumperwack July 28, 2011 9:16 pm

    How bout “he died with his boots on”……………

  15. Pat
    Pat July 29, 2011 12:10 am

    I think pondering one’s legacy is a exercise in futility. What I’d like to be known for is an intelligent, honest, rational individual who knew what the hell she was talking about, and influenced others to be the same; what that’s gotten me so far is a reputation as an opinionated, off-beat, sometimes irreverant, anti-establishmentarian.

    Guess I just don’t travel in the right circles…

  16. Tom Buchanan
    Tom Buchanan July 29, 2011 8:14 am

    I would like my legacy to be the hole I leave behind. I have been in the freedom movement since the late 1990’s and was one of the original Tyranny Response Team founders and have been educating people on the state of our nation and the spiral towards tyranny we have been marching to for the past 100 years.

    When the current Tea Party movement arrived on the scene two and half years ago I was encouraged, but just as back in the TRT the big question is “When is every else going to wake up?”

    I am currently the chair of the Loveland 92 Project and work to educate people on preparedness and legislative action.

    Sometimes I just want to drop out and tell everyone good luck and hope they survive.

    In the end we will be missed by those we affect the most. I want my legacy, whether it be on a head stone or a plaque amongst the weeds at some park to read ‘Used Up’.

    Claire, you have been an inspiration to me since I first read your article on the ‘Do Gooders’ at the Lodge

  17. WolfSong
    WolfSong July 29, 2011 10:36 am

    I can only hope that the knowledge I am trying to share with my daughter, and the kids in her school will go heard…I hope the next generation finds inspiration in learning to grow their own food, how to preserve it, and how to ethically raise animals for food. I hope they learn to question authority, and don’t follow the sheeple path just because it’s easier. I hope they rebel against “programming” and “training” that the school pushes, and learn to think for themselves.

    If none of that happens, well, then I will just be happy with a legacy of a happy healthy child, and a husband, who may not have gotten everything consumerist thing in life he wanted, but has had a good life anyways, with a paid off house, truck, and yearly hunting trips.

  18. cctyker
    cctyker July 31, 2011 7:41 pm

    I waited two days before I answered your legacy question to show that legacy is not mine to decide. Millions of people have done every single act I’ve done. “We” have a legacy: we are a society. We’ll be written up in history books as common folk.

  19. Matt
    Matt August 1, 2011 7:58 am

    The overwhelming majority of methods by which one’s specific “legacy” can be anticipated during one’s own lifetime amount to the sort of thing that even most state-worshippers would classify under “evil”. (Well, OK, maybe they’d say “undesirable”…but there’d still be no dispute that most of the ways to be famous after you’re dead come down to stuff that no sane man would want to be famous for.)

    Most of the things we do have impacts we can’t anticipate. There’s a man I’ll go to my grave still thanking and praying for, whose name I never learned and who never learned mine. He probably forgot about me within ten minutes of our first and only encounter, but he saved my soul (and also my life) that day.

    Have I ever had an impact that big? I don’t know. But then, I wouldn’t, since I’m betting he doesn’t know all that he’s done either. I do know that, given a choice, I’d far rather that my name be forgotten but the effects of my actions live on for the betterment of some subset of mankind, than the reverse, which is more typically the case among the “famous even after death”.

    Most likely, if I’m still known after I’m gone, it’ll be by family and friends. I can aspire to being the subject of a really entertaining story or two, that might continue to be retold.

    Certainly having my last name (*ahem*) become synonymous with the concept of triggering a revolution is probably beyond me.

  20. A. G.
    A. G. August 1, 2011 3:27 pm

    When it’s over

    May my friends say I was honorable

    May my wife say I was loyal

    May my Lord say “Well done.”

  21. Standard Mischief
    Standard Mischief August 1, 2011 6:52 pm

    I’ll admit it. I don’t know jack about poets. At least the date was close ‘enuf

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