“Death has to be waiting at the end of the ride before you truly see the earth, and feel your heart, and love the world” (Jean Anouilh).
EACH OF OUR LIVES REACHES BOTH BACKWARD AND FORWARD. They reach backward to our ancestors, from whom we’ve received a heritage, and forward to our descendants, to whom we will leave a heritage. As the generations come and go, each hands down to the next a curious assortment of things, some of which are good and some of which are, perhaps, not so good. Even so, we need to understand that both what we’ve received and what we leave can be considered as a “heritage.” Life didn’t begin with us, and it certainly won’t end with us either. Like it or not, we’re all connected.
Knowing that death is “waiting at the end of the ride” surely ought to make a difference in our concept of how to use our years. If when we’re gone there’s going to be some residue of our living, something our survivors will have to deal with, then it makes sense to work, while we still can, on leaving a heritage that’ll be easy and pleasant to deal with. Who among us wants to leave a horrible heritage?
Good heritages, however, aren’t forged accidentally or haphazardly. It takes more than simply going with the flow to get the kind of results we can feel good about handing down. Conscious choices have to be made, and deliberate discipline has to be exercised.
As we build up our children’s heritage, one thing that can motivate us is to meditate on the heritage our forefathers have bequeathed to us. When we’re young, we tend to assume that, as adults, we’re going to do better than our parents did. But as we age, we begin to see that it will be no small accomplishment to end up doing as well as they did. To put it bluntly: most of us have some catching up to do if we’re going to leave a heritage as good as the one that was left to us.
Ultimately, the heritage we leave will grow out of our true values: we will hand down to others not what we said we valued, but what we actually valued. We need not think, for example, that we can sink our real passion into stocks and bonds and still leave a legacy of spiritual values to our children. Even now, they know what we’re really up to.
What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross . . .
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage.