Opinion: Legacies of the living

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The holidays bring with them a raft of nostalgia. We watch old movies and eat meals concocted from long-lost recipes. There is something in all of us — well most of us, anyway — that holds on dearly to our remembered past. Some cultures have built significant religious theology upon this remembrance, some might argue, like worship of ancestors. Closer to home, our landscape abounds with prominent bits of real estate filled with stone monuments, many of which bear the names of long-forgotten members of our community. In all cases, the granite carvings will extend many decades longer than the lifespan of even the oldest human whose passing was memorialized by the tombstone. Why do we long for permanence still knowing that none exists?

We commemorate government buildings, streets and rock formations with names of our dead. Ostensibly, the deceased did something special, extra-contributory, or even great. Good. There are exemplars among us. Still, as we tear down statues and rename creeks traversing campuses, one is led to wonder if our pride in these many actions also will someday be judged as misplaced. Do we control the narrative of what others may think? Should we attempt it? Could we imagine a future generation looking at the effects of our contribution and determining it to have been harmful? Does it matter, or is it the challenge of each generation to reshape the works of those past into their own storyline?

Must we act to save the world, or are we just seeking change for its own sake? Is it better to have the creek named after us? Perhaps knowing the difference, if there is one, is the trick. If there is a legacy that matters, isn’t it in the people and ideas that we care about while living? Cheers to 2022!


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