“To Be Remembered”
Photo credit: Laura Fuhrman: unsplash.com
I wandered into a conversation in the Thrift Shop one morning when I went downstairs to see how the day was going, a conversation about antiques and the things we have ended up with from our elder relatives now passed, about what we would do with those, who might want them, would a son or a daughter feel drawn to holding the memory, even know what that story was, what meaning they had. I thought about my parent’s antique storage bench that converts to a table which my daughter wants some day. About the cross-stitch embroidery samplers that my mother crafted that now hang on my walls. About my great-aunt’s watch and my great grandmother’s wedding band. About Chuck’s collection of chain saws resurrected from family garages. They speak to me of another era, of the colonial flair that was handed down to me and still graces my home in some way, shape or form. Speak of handiwork that captures family history, but of the care and precision that goes into meaningful creativity, of the inheritance of what translated into a love for fiber arts and color. Speak of a timelessness and a time standing still in the treasured possessions of loved ones. Speak of work and purpose. Speak to me of legacy.
Bruce T. Marshall, in the book we studied together a couple of years ago, “In Later Years” says that legacy is what we hand down to those who follow us in the next generations, that we want to leave something lasting when we are gone. He talks about our contributions to individual lives that have been served by our touch and to humanity as a whole, perhaps our material wealth an asset to the future, assets that will support that which was of value to us in our own lives. We leave things that are representative of how we sought to live and what we have believed in. Our choices in life have an effect on those who come after us, even when the whole story of our decisions remains unknown. The way we move through life and especially how we move through these later years can leave a legacy for younger folks about a love for life and beauty and learning with courage to face whatever comes next for us.[i]
We talked back then about our spiritual legacies, not so much the tangible items that we would bequeath, but the meaning and values that we would want to pass on, to leave for our kin to mull over and to shape in new ways, maintaining the kernel of truth that was found, but building it anew for another time. We explored where that meaning came from, who and what events had influenced us, and then placed ourselves in the lineage as the passers on. We even talked about writing a spiritual will of sorts, so that our meaning making would be recorded somewhere for all time, so that the story beneath the story would not be lost.
The concept of legacy comes to me as a two-part question. There is what we receive and what we pass on. It creates a continuous cycle. Like Gretchen Sentry says in her poem we shared for our meditation this morning, we practice a dance. Our ancestors form an unending line behind us, lighting up our days and filling us with whispered remembrances – dreamers, workers, travelers. Our prototypes, she says, these archetypal examples of life – living, being, doing – creating in us a hint of who we are, what we will be, kindling the spark of our legacy. Soon enough the next generation moves to the front of the line, and we are just behind, the bridge between the distant past and the unknown future.
In these moments we are blessed with opportunity to take the history, some of it glorious and some of it downright hard, all of it sacred though, and to mold it through our own life decisions, what we learn and as we grow in understanding, so that what we pass on is shaped, bears our mark, carries a seed of what was, but becomes hybridized. It is an awesome responsibility when we think about it, this ability to gather up and stir about and pour out. All of it will carry meaning. What we want that to look like is a choice.
We are receiving legacies all the time. In our families, here in our religious home, the wider community, our nation, and our world. What we do with them shapes the present and the future. Maybe it is kindness or generosity or resilience. But let’s face it, legacy isn’t all goodness and light! Some of what we inherit is hurtful or harmful, traumas passed down through our DNA, our familial DNA, but also that of our predecessors in our religious or work contexts, our societal systems. Wherever it comes from it rests in our bodies and spirits until we unearth it, reshape it, and choose an alternate path to a healthier existence for ourselves and our progeny. The legacy we leave can be a much healthier one than what we began with.
Leslie Takahashi talks about immortality – the way we live on beyond our physical existence. What she is talking about is legacy, about how those who have gone before us remain alive with us and, also, about how we will be remembered. What we receive is woven into the fabric of our lives. What we teach and love and share matters. Our hopes and strengths instilled within our hearts are ours to care for and to share. We are accompanied by words and wisdom, joys and concerns, they are beacons for us, and we are collectors of that light beckoning others onward.
As Unitarian Universalists we carry the legacy left to us by our religious forebears. We are free in our thinking to seek out truths. We hold as sacred each life, human or otherwise. We are bound together by community. Here at the Meeting House we care deeply for one another and our world. We nurture inclusion, seek justice and equity, encourage free minds and spirits. This is our legacy, what we have received from our tradition and what we have shaped for the future.
Our recent conversations about what we hope for and dream of at the Meeting House, about how we get from point A to point B, strike me as discussions about legacy, too. Are we not talking about what we have and have learned and what we will leave? Whatever our next iteration is will surely bear witness to who we have been and how we want to shape the future. And isn’t the path we take, the way we choose and the way we choose to sort it all out, isn’t that, also a piece of our legacy? The how and the why as important as the what!
This morning we learned about a special gift to the Meeting House from Jamie and Stephania McClennen and we are so grateful for their support of a solar project that has been on hold pending funding since my first year here with you. This is a tangible gift, an offering from their assets geared toward the improvement of our own. But it is so much more! These good people have given considerable thought to where they share their abundance. They delve into the how and the why of their giving. Where they land in this process says a thing or two about what is of value to them. Thankfully, this Meeting House is of significance! But more so, I think, making a statement about sustainability and our planet comes into play here. Building a bridge between our tradition and its justice focus and this place on the hill – our collective focus and shared values shows up for me as a piece of the whole. This is a living example of the connection between values and action, that something taught or loved which is now ours to carry out, to do; the restless concern that becomes our charge. Somewhere along the way, the McClennans received a set of values and have shaped those for our times and offered an opportunity for us to join in that legacy. What a blessing to be part of that lineage.
I will admit that this sermon today was prompted by a request from the Endowment Board last summer which asked that I highlight some of their efforts! And I said then that I’d be willing to talk about legacy, about how we remember and are remembered, and how that is connected to the Meeting House. When people make a gift to the Endowment Fund here, they are contributing to the future of this place, making a way for support to be available for how we show up beyond what is captured in the normal day to day expenses of our existence. And when people choose to give to our Endowment Fund, they are indeed saying something about the value of this place in their lives and a belief in its value for many years to come. It speaks to a commitment to this tradition and its importance in shaping our world. Sometimes people make a donation with a specific intention, like Sally Duplaix, whose contribution was specifically designated for use in life-long learning and justice endeavors, these being areas of special value to her, the fund in her name a part of her legacy here.
Our legacy, each of ours and ours together, is about taking a deep dive into the spiritual and the practical and making a connection between the two. Our legacy comes into focus as we bridge the sacred and the profane aspects of our lives. They are inextricably intertwined. What matters – what our ancestors have handed down to us – what we have done with that and what we ultimately leave for the future – is a golden thread woven into a vast tapestry of time. Be it subtle or bold and bright, may we take some time to notice and to move with it, find in it it’s meaning for us, our legacy.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, September 18, 2022
[i] In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall; Skinner House Books, 2018, pp.161-4.