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Camille Granito Mancuso: Chatterbox--The life we leave

Legacy. What is it? How do we create one? How is it defined? What does it say about who we are, or were?
One thing’s for sure: We all leave a legacy behind us whether we intended to, need to, or want to… or not. One could suppose that the legacy we aim for or leave behind is financial, but that’s not anyone’s legacy; that’s our survivors’ inheritance. Many people believe them to be the same thing but they are not.
We all leave only the residual effects of our life in our wake. If it’s great wealth, our inheritors will be glad of it, but if there’s no personal connection, no one will feel anything else. The wealth we leave behind in terms of financial assets is secondary to the wealth we leave behind in terms of our humanity and we all leave both.
Financial legacies can be great wealth, a humble sum, or debts to be paid, but memories are legacies too. We pass on lessons, morals, character, and our descendants are the inheritors of that footprint, good or bad.
Those who leave behind good finances and great memories are celebrated and rare; great wealth in the right hands creates great generosity and can enhance many lives, and no one should argue with success and its financial rewards.
Those who leave only a wealth of good memories are winners too, because pride and a richness of the heart carry far more weight than gold and are great rudders.
Those leaving only gold and no redeeming humanity are the losers because our human connection is all that lingers, all that defines us and defends our life.
There are those who create wealth for their own privilege exclusively. Chatterbox, Aug. 8, 2019 discussed that such self-indulgence can be addictive, and like anyone addicted to anything, such vision becomes singular, of personal indulgence, to the exclusion of most other people and things.
A lovely young woman I know was recently celebrated with many heartfelt surprises long planned for her. They will not put a penny in her purse, but they are her wealth. To be so celebrated by family and friends reflects a loving, thoughtful, selfless life and one well shared from the soul.
Dedication to others, whether loved ones or strangers in a crowd, is the real measure of anyone’s life riches and, though praise usually isn’t the goal of dedicating oneself to others, it’s often an offshoot, and makes for great joy as well as a very strong safety net. It leaves a body of work that may not be contained between the pages of books but in the hearts and minds and upon the character of those touched by it with exponential effects.
Those who leave a legacy of a dedication to people, though there may not be an inheritance or wealth defined by a portfolio or which requires accountants, there is something most people find far more valuable. There is a legacy of pride, love, character and personal investment.
Chatterbox has mentioned, more than once, a New York Times obituary I happened upon years ago. It gave me illumination. An obit recaps a person’s life; this particular one will mesmerize me forever. Very long and flush with descriptions of this man’s wealth-accumulating skills, storied parties and fancy yachts, it showed no sign of life for the deceased. His family was only a naked list of a few names, and there were no affiliations outside of work – no church, charities, nothing platonic or altruistic. For a wealthy man, he was actually quite poor.
The legacy we leave is the legacy we build. What is the legacy left by those who gave their lives for others in war, on 9/11, and those who risk themselves in an ordinary day to protect family and strangers alike?
The young lady celebrated by her “people” yesterday is one who has what most of us work for and enjoy building each day: a legacy of friends and kindness; the wealth of relationships, of showing and giving love and being loved. These are the things that matter.
The pursuit of wealth without altruism and generosity and fair play is wasted opportunity. The pursuit of service to mankind is reflective of a greater soul and a broader, kinder and more productive perspective.
When facing choices, we need to ask ourselves which kind of person we want to be and what life we want to leave.
That is also the kind of person we want at the helm of our ship.