I’m at that point in life where I think about what I will leave behind; my legacy, if you will. I’m not a president of anything, but still, there are those who will want to know more about me than they are even able to think about at this point. I have two great grandsons (and a third one on the way), and unlike my own childhood, there will be a great grandfather in their lives. What will they know about me, and the life that led to my participation in their lives, and the lives of their parents and grandparents? Perhaps they won’t care, but my own experience tells me that at some point they will have some questions, some interest in those who came before.
I never knew my grandfathers or great grandfathers. All I know about them is what little my parents passed on (which wasn’t really very much). For a long time I didn’t realize what a loss that was. A personal loss, to be sure, but it has left me with a short story where family is concerned. Not entirely, of course. There are legends in every family, funny or tragic, sometimes enlightening or inspiring, but that isn’t the same as "knowing." No smile to recall, no voice to remember, no third dimension by which to see them.
In her later years my mother, a forgotten poet and writer of children’s tales (which she never tried to publish), wrote a couple of short pieces (30 or so pages) describing her early years as an immigrant child and her growing up in a small southern town. Those were mostly the stories my sister and I had heard growing up, but some of it was new and all of it was a wonderful way to pass those stories on to our children and grandchildren and (in time) great grandchildren. A legacy.
What I’m writing about here is what each of us can do. We don’t have to be literary geniuses, or even moderately successful writers of fiction or essays. We all have stories that, perhaps unknowingly, formed our lives. It is something that needs to be made accessible to those who come after because without a history, no life is complete. And it isn’t difficult. All you really need is a pad of paper, a pen or pencil, or perhaps a small digital recorder (about $15 or $20 today) and the time to sit down and recall your own life, and the lives of those who came before. Maybe even stories of your own children that they may have forgotten but that, to you, were part of making them what they have become.
Santayana is usually credited with first stating the obvious (though there are about a dozen different versions of it): "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." "Doomed" is perhaps not always the right word to use. Sometimes forgetting history can help one live a more balanced, successful life. Either way, history is history, and knowing it, understanding it, is an important part of living.
Write it down. Leave a gift for those who come after.