Not long ago I received a brochure from a charitable organization. On the front was the headline, “Leave a Legacy.”
I soon discovered “Leave a Legacy” meant “write a big check.” If the check was big enough, I could have a room named for me. If the check was really big, I could have my name on a building.
While I didn’t write a check, I have been thinking about what it means to leave a legacy — the things people will remember about us when we’re no longer here.
Many legacies are not about money.
Not long ago I met with Sam, a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. As we chatted about things that happened more than 40 years ago, he asked, “Do you know what I remember about your dad?”
I had no idea. My dad died in 1978, and I meet few people anymore who remember him. Sam said when he moved to Sarasota in his early 20s, he and several other young men attempted to rent an apartment in the neighborhood. The owner refused; renting to young men was too risky. They’d wreck the apartment or wouldn’t pay.
When Sam told dad about this, he said, “I’ll talk to Mahlon [the landlord] and see if we can’t work something out.” Dad told Mahlon that if Sam didn’t make good on the rent or damaged the apartment dad would take care of it.
“I will never forget that,” Sam said.
I wasn’t surprised. Dad was known for helping people. When he died in 1978, people came to the visitation and told stories of how he had helped them — stories we had never heard. Fifty years later, Sam still remembers what dad did for him.
Every morning my partner and I pray “The Pilgrim’s Prayer” before breakfast:
That which today brings forth, let me accept with grace.
That which today teaches, let me accept with humility.
That which today provides, let me accept with gratitude.
That which today delights, let me accept with joy.
To these I pledge myself. Amen.
I try to remember the prayer as I go about my daily activities. But the prayer also reminds me to remember Ron Helmuth, who wrote it. He and his wife, Elena, prayed the prayer every morning as they set out hiking the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) in 2018. The Camino de Santiago is a popular hiking route stretching from France to Spain, and the hikers are known as pilgrims.
While I learned to know Ron many years ago, our paths hadn’t crossed recently. Earlier this spring we had planned to get together with Ron and Elena during one of their visits to Sarasota. A few days before we were to have breakfast together, Ron became ill and was hospitalized. Within a few weeks, he died. I know he touched many people.
When Ron became ill, he was unable to travel except by medical air transport. Friends in Pennsylvania organized a fund-raiser, and within a few days collected thousands of dollars so he could to return home under the care of medical professionals.
For me, the prayer is a reminder of a life well-lived.
Each of us will leave a legacy. For some, it may be a large gift to a favorite charity. But one legacy we all can leave is being thoughtful and kind and helping the people around us.
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.