What is your bottom line?
When all is said and done, what do you consider the primary, the most important consideration, the ultimate value of your life?
Or let’s come at “bottom line” slightly differently, What is the benefit (profit, net gain) you are leaving to the world?
Or how about this: What is your legacy?
I ask because, of course, we don’t have future years in which to begin to create a legacy that will make us proud or show us in a good light – we have now, this minute, because this minute is the only one that exists. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know – right? If you get up from reading this and have an aneurysm, or a heart attack, or slip and fall down the stairs, breaking your neck (as I came within inches of doing two years ago), your legacy is what remains. You (I) have already created it.
How does that feel? Are you content with how you have lived? the decisions you have made? the generosity you have shown? the compassion or justice or love or kindness you have poured (or dripped) into the world? Two news stories invited me to reflect on this during the past week.
The first is the set of responses to the President’s State of the Union address, ranging from the mildly snide to the outright hostile sniping about how Obama is ‘trying to create his legacy early’ with his address to the nation. Nope. I think those comments miss what a legacy is. This President, in common with every other President of these United States, in common with every normal citizen of these United States (actually, in common with every human being – famous and unknown), has been creating his legacy from the moment he was born. Certainly his legacy specifically as regards his Presidency began with the day he was elected (if not during the run-up to the election)…but he isn’t starting it now. No one gets to pick a point in time and say, “From here forward is my legacy. Forget the rest.” That isn’t how legacy works.
The second news story is the horrific revelations coming out of Flint, Michigan, and the decision of the leadership of that city to deliberately poison the residents with chloride and lead in order to save money. Of course, it won’t save money because all that health damage is going to cost us millions of dollars going forward in caring for people with chronic and terminal conditions, in lost wages, in lost possibilities as children’s brains are irrevocably damaged. And this says nothing of the far more important issue of lost trust and betrayed civic responsibility.
So, let me ask again: What is your bottom line? Now. Right Now. This very minute.
What are the values that have motivated you, the ones you have tried to teach your children, or proclaimed to your colleagues (or constituents), or demanded of your employees?
Have you actually lived in a way that has created a civic or spiritual profit, an environmental benefit, net relational riches, hope, vision, grace, peace to the universe?
Or have you lived values that are essentially self-based – what is good for you is all that matters?
Or is it more about mindlessness or habit? Have you bought, consumed, taken from common resources, more than you needed and, in the process, left a deficit, prejudice, division, poverty, in your wake? [As a citizen of the USA, even with the best of intentions, the answer for me is I have taken more than my share…] Or maybe you have neither helped nor hurt, maybe you think it is wisest to leave a nice, neat zero behind — matching what you received exactly to what you gave?
If you died tonight, would you be content with your legacy?
We are approaching Imbolc – the spring quarter – when we deliberately plant the seeds of our next harvests. I am looking closely at what is in my silos and storehouses right now to see whether it is really what I want to leave as my legacy. If I am lucky enough to live into Imbolc, into planting seeds…and then into tending and harvesting the crops, do I want them to look like last year or do I want to do something different?
Even if what has come before has been good, is it time for trying something harder, but possibly healthier and more beneficial?
And is it perhaps time to think about my own Flint, Michigan, moments and repent of them and do everything I can to correct and heal them? No, I have not been in the position of making a decision about communal drinking water or knowingly building homes over a toxic waste dump. But I have damaged relationships by pouring anger or judgment into them. I don’t want to repeat those.
It is also worth paying attention to my [fill in the name of someone you admire deeply] moments — the times when I say, “It doesn’t matter whether you like me or not, this act is worth cashing in my chips because it is the right thing to do.” And using this moment (right here and now) to leave behind something that is bigger and stronger and wiser and more courageous than I knew I could be.
I suspect that all of us leave a mixed legacy behind. We are human beings on a learning curve. That doesn’t mean I can’t refine my choices, changing what I don’t like and stretching to do more of what benefits my fellow creatures. But I better do it now since that is all the time I have.
Text © 2016, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The first photo today is the fiber piece “Lifelines” which is available through my Etsy shop. The second photo is a heart-shaped rock from the Brough of Birsay on Orkney. The final photo is the Candle of Conscience in Salisbury Cathedral.
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