Eventually, we all arrive at the “legacy years” and start asking ourselves “what the Hell was that all about? And what part did I play in it? How much harm did I do? Did I manage any measurable or memorable good?” Of course we try to shine a bright light on our living years. And this is where it falls apart. Face it … when your kids tell their kids that you had a career in advertising or some other lost art or activity, they’ll ask what “advertising” is. Or was. They may turn to the We Channel for Mad Men re-runs, but it’s doubtful and certainly not for long. Jumping out of airplanes, driving fast cars and motorcycles and burning through an enormous quantity of fossil fuels won’t earn many points in a solar and wind-powered autonomous vehicle planet. The treasured possessions you expect your survivors to cherish will feed a garage sale if they don’t wind up in a landfill.
And so you turn to your offspring for validation. “I have wonderful and successful kids!” But kids as legacy doesn’t work. Fathering successful, caring and well-motivated kids doesn’t say anything about you at all. A night of passion is not a path to sainthood. If your kids turn out well, it will likely have as much to do with them seeing you as a bad example as a good one. Unless you’re their mother. Mothers score higher in the legacy department. Kids figure it out. Some of the best grow up in bad circumstances. If it isn’t at home, they find their inspiration elsewhere. Love your kids, but don’t try to use them as a comment on your character.
Religion steps in to indulge some of us in looking forward to a post-mortem opportunity to apologize to everyone who beat us to paradise or is planning the trip. We’ll meet again to explain and sort it all out. It will be easier if there was a large inheritance involved. For the rest of us, it’s a wrap and what was, is.
So what’s left when you’re whittling away at a few thousand days? Lots of good stuff. Pretending it doesn’t hurt. Getting scared to death. Learning that the old dog new tricks thing is only partly true. You can meet new people and find new things to learn and try. You can go back to things you were told to give up on account of your age. You can become a student again and humble the ego some degree of success has inflated. If you forsake golf courses and the narrow company of the kindred wrinkled, you may still add some value to a world that doesn’t seem to need you anymore and thought (perhaps hoped) you were quieted away in a home.
If you go this route and dive back into the sandbox, you can look forward to discovering enthusiastic if small support in the company of amazing people half or even a third your age. If you’re lucky, they may find some strong threads in the fabric of your old soul. You start out in life playing with the other kids and dreading bedtime, and there’s no reason not to end it that way.
Maybe legacy is simply passing along some evidence that the game is worth playing for all it’s worth right to the end, whether or not you’re in a position to win.