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Imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sort of legacy will you leave? Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

Humans suffer from grandiosity, I believe. An inflated opinion of themselves and a resistance to the knowledge that they will pass on, and in a few generations will be forgotten except in scattered photographs, curiosities in the minds of their progeny. That’s not surprising. If an individual feels invincible, triumphant, then perhaps they can ignore the fact that they are just finite human beings.

I used to have panic attacks when I had those moments of complete clarity, realizing that I would die, that this life will end. Then I will pass into another existence, totally unknown and forbidding because its beyond human understanding. It scared me, well, not to death, but it was very unsettling. I wanted to know what was on the other side — but that is unknowable, except from anecdotal information of near death experiences of a few individuals. But that’s not reliable either.

I’ve spent time with people who knew they were dying, and it seems they become more accepting of the idea, perhaps because they have no alternative. I only hope that God sent them some comfort in their acceptance. We are born to live, encouraged to thrive and be successful, procreate — but nothing prepares us for the concept of dying.

The Church tries its best; heaven is an achievable goal, more or less, depending on one’s religion. Still, churches do not answer the central question to my satisfaction: why are we born to die? what lies on the other side? what is the point of the next existence? Still, I believe my questions are probably naive because it is impossible to grasp the idea and purpose of the hereafter.

In the medieval town of St. Andrews, Scotland, I made my peace with eternity. Nothing on earth expresses the continuity of life like the sea. The tides sweep over the sands without fail, forever as far as I can comprehend. On that beach men and women have stood for easily 1,000 years. They died and are long forgotten, except for the discovered bits and pieces of their daily lives uncovered by the curious of another generation. The important thing about ordinary people from the past who no one now remembers, is that they lived. They did their work, raised their families, and contributed in some way to the growth of culture, knowledge and civilization. St. Andrews is just an example, but to me, the sea explains it all.

Only a handful of people now or in the past will be remembered by name for the  legacy they passed on to future generations. Most people will be mourned only by family and close friends, and pretty much forgotten when the following generation takes over. Even some great people who left a legacy to the nation or the world, may have failed to leave a personal legacy to their family members.

We fail to realize that often it is the little things that count — they blossom into something important over time. Loving, nurturing, and instilling in our children values and virtues affect the next generation. It matters when you do things with your kids, when you play with them, read to them, talk with them, praise and correct them. It makes a difference when children appreciate that family is a special unit of society that is a safe haven where they will always be loved.

We are a close family and even those who have married into it share our values and ideals. Hopefully the children they have made, and those yet to be born will share in the same body of love and caring that is our family. This is my legacy, my contribution to the future.