The 120-year-old embroidery piece my grandmother created when she was a teen hangs on my office wall. It was a sewing exercise for her to practice the stitches passed down through generations of women before her. Its edges are frayed now and its value questionable. Yet to me it is priceless. It reminds me of my heritage, a legacy that connects me with my Swedish ancestry and the many traditions she and my mother introduced me to as a child. Today I look at Grandma’s handiwork and see it as the tapestry of my life. Each thread is a person in my story, and each stitch is a unique gift or experience that connects me to all my people across time and space.
Rachael Freed in Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies says, “if our lives are to have lasting meaning, we must use them as a sacred link, consciously connecting the past and the future.” To do so is a courageous act, for it speaks of intention and transcendence. How do I want to be remembered? What values and beliefs guide my life? What will I leave behind? Each of us wants to know that our life mattered, that it contributed in a meaningful way to the rich tapestry that represents all humanity.
You are Your Legacy
Creating, living, and claiming a legacy takes a lifetime, and it is never too early or too late to define yours. It begins by looking at where you come from. Your history is a compilation of the people and experiences from your past. Parents, grandparents, neighbors, mentors, teachers, bosses, friends, and colleagues have all had an impact on your life. How have they blessed you, or has their legacy set up stumbling blocks to the life you prefer? I still honor the gift of “preciousness” that my grandmother gave me. I remember the tiny packages of coins she often stuffed into my hand. These coins, wrapped in tissue and secured with several rubber bands, were saved out of her weekly grocery money. Sometimes the package consisted of a single quarter; other times there was an assortment of nickels, dimes, or maybe even a fifty-cent piece. My grandmother was not a wealthy woman, so the coins were a gift from her heart. Today, that gift still resonates with me. I knew my grandmother loved me and that I was precious in her eyes.
Living Your Legacy Now
To create, live, and claim your legacy, you also need to evaluate your present situation, and consider how well you are managing and leading your life. Who are you, really? What character strengths keep you on course in your life journey? What are the flaws that limit the vision of who you want to be? The question I struggled with as a young woman was how to live out my grandmother’s legacy. Who would be precious in my eyes? The answer has evolved over time. It started as a call to honor relationship, and grew to an understanding that every person is a precious child in the eyes of the Creator. The challenge of living out this legacy is always present for me. When someone disrespects or disagrees with me, it’s hard to think of them as “precious.” But what keeps me on course is the gift my grandmother instilled in me so long ago – that I, like everyone else, am precious.
Your Gift to the Future
When you consider your future, you add texture to the family thread woven into your tapestry. How will your life link the past with the future? Now an older me, I wonder what wisdom I can impart to future generations. Does my life speak to the values I cherish? Is the “preciousness of all life” a reflection of who I am? The answers to these questions are still unfolding, but it is my hope that the people I encounter throughout my life will feel supported and honored when they are with me. Then, if they feel better about themselves, I hope they too will pass it on. This is the thread I want to weave through my life and, in turn, link me with present and future generations.
What happens to your legacy if you do not have a “grandma” in your life? What if the past is a series of stumbling blocks or lessons to avoid passing on? Your experiences, no matter how painful, are part of your legacy, too. Perhaps they speak to your strength of character, resilience, and determination. It is up to you to create a new vision for the life you prefer to live. After all, you are a survivor. Your dream of what “can be” recognizes that you have a choice in creating your legacy.
Legacy Letters and Ethical Wills
A written statement of the legacy you are creating is a gift to yourself, your family, your loved ones, and your community. This statement, called a legacy letter or ethical will, is a sacred work of art that demands self-reflection and personal narrative. Written early in life, the ethical will helps you define your purpose and live according to the values you hold dear. Written later in life, the ethical will pulls together the themes that have defined your life, offers blessings to your loved ones, and often expresses how you wish to be memorialized after death. Like my grandmother’s embroidery, the ethical will transcends time. It links your ancestors and your life experiences to future generations and weaves your story into the fabric of family and community.
©2021 by Sue McCollum
Join Us on May 15 to Tell Your Own Story!
You're invited to join Sue McCollum, a Women’s Legacies Circles™ facilitator, for a legacy workshop from 10 a.m. to noon EDT on Saturday, May 15. Using prompts to generate memories and identify values, we’ll begin the process of writing our ethical will or legacy letter to children, grandchildren, friends, or groups who are important to us. We will not be giving feedback on writing, but you will be encouraged to share pieces of what you write if you wish. To learn more about Sue and to register, visit https://www.marketstreetwriters.com/workshops--retreats.