I lost a friend this week, and this earth lost a kind, funny, good-hearted soul. My high school graduating class was small–only 44 people–and he is the first to leave us. Even though I hadn’t seen him in years, his death has rippled through our loosely connected community. I’ve said “I love you” to old friends, and had thought-provoking conversations about legacy.
And I guess, of all the things I could talk to you about this week, that’s probably the most important. So here we go.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we are telling right now. We are writing history. Fast forward 500 years in the future. Pretend you’re standing on the steps of The Met. Or in the courtyard at the Louvre. As you enter the museum, you’re directed to a hall labeled, the Early Aughts.
The walls are lined…with what? Data? Blog posts? Computer chips? Holograms? Server stacks and hard drives?
I asked myself this question the other day, and my college art history class popped into my mind. The professor quickly checked the boxes on early art: cave drawings, hieroglyphics, Greek and Roman sculpture, and architecture. And then, nothing. For eight hundred years. From 500 AD to 1400 AD, there was not much progress, and the records are few.
Now, I know there was something. Humans are creative. I’m sure something was created. But it wasn’t significant or documented, or notable. Books weren’t written, paintings weren’t painted, sculptures weren’t chiseled. Stories weren’t recorded.
Historians use the phrase “Dark Ages” to describe this period between the fall of Rome in 476 CE and the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. The paintings from the Renaissance period fill the halls of countless museums all over the world. Compared to the Dark Ages, the creative work produced was astounding. Artists were prolific. Stories were once again brought to life in pigment and print, and the world welcomed tools and innovations like the printing press.
Creativity was back, baby.
So what was up with 800 years of darkness? Well, there was war, dissension, famine, and plague. Instability reigned when anarchy could be avoided. Turns out, living conditions were not conducive for people to be creative. The lack of work produced is proof enough.
Bringing it all back around to where we are today, the question I’ve been asking myself is: with all the creative effort we are putting into technology, will there be anything to hang on the walls of the museums in 500 years
History has also proven that people love a pendulum swing. The dark ages produced the Renaissance; the industrial era triggered the arts and crafts movement.
So I think we’ll be ok.
But I write all this to remind us: the work we produce matters. It’s a legacy we leave; the stories our descendants will tell.
I don’t want my legacy to be a Facebook page or an Instagram profile. I don’t want my stories to be buried on a hard drive in a landfill.
This leaves me with a series of thought-provoking questions: am I giving my best creative effort to my projects? Am I producing anything tangible? And perhaps, most sobering: if I left this earth tomorrow, what would I leave behind?
A half-remodeled house? A pile of paintings in a corner, begging to be framed? A half-felted elephant head? A garage full of projects?
Or in other words, a mess?
When I don’t like the answers to the questions I’m asking, I know it’s time to change my behavior.
Our stories are beautiful, friends. But we are in charge of organizing and curating them. This will be our legacy.
What body of work are the efforts of your life producing? And are you using your imagination and creativity to share the byproduct in a way that might add value to future generations?
Whether it’s a home you’re cleaning or decorating, a child you’re teaching, a meal you’re cooking and sharing, are you doing it in such a way that if you died tomorrow, you’d be leaving your people something besides a series of half-finished ideas?
More thoughts on this to come, but I’ve got a half-felted elephant head that needs tending to.
Want my Sunday thoughts in your inbox every week? Click here!