The other day I enjoyed Randy Siegel‘s thoughts regarding “A Question of Legacy” in his e-newsletter. As I read about his art collecting, the concept of leaving a legacy, feelings on letting go of a piece, and the strangeness of seeing “your piece with someone else’s name under it,” I was struck by some parallels between Randy’s work and his intention to leave a legacy as an art collector, and my own efforts. Unlike the art collector’s legacy, the one I build is mostly intangible. It also was initially unintentional, but the experience of letting go and seeing “my piece” with others’ names on them is very similar to the art collector’s experience that Randy describes.
Being a grassroots organizer and community builder by nature, I have created and fostered several communities and organizations. But, also being a “planter,” I have sown the seeds and nurtured the seedlings, then turned them over to others’ care. Like Randy described for an art collector, I build a collection, enjoy it for a time, and then let it go.
For me, this process has been largely unselfconscious; I took these actions because they were the right actions, because the opportunities presented themselves, and because I could. I did not take what Randy calls “a 50,000 foot view,” and look at my accomplishments from afar. I just kept doing what each day seemed to be right thing for that time. I had no concept of reward or recognition. What I did notice–and what pleases me far beyond the titles and awards–is that I was actively empowering others to speak for themselves, to protect their rights, to expand who they are, to take a bold action, even if just a single baby step.
People often say nice things to me, and in the past few years I have received several awards. I appreciate these, but without them I would still be equally satisfied with my work, for I know I have touched numerous lives. Many of those people have gone on to spread my work in their own way, refusing to give in to fear, breaking through rigid expectations, creating community and proactive effort and opportunities for themselves, their children, and others.
Randy noted that art “is never truly owned by the collector. Rather, collectors are only temporary custodians. Maybe collecting art is an exercise in non-attachment. It’s an opportunity to allow things to flow through our lives.”
My art–the things I created, shared, and gave away–was also never truly owned by me. I, too, was only a temporary custodian who had the opportunity to allow things to flow through my life.
Randy’s email described him reflecting on whether creating an art collection is “like Tibetan mandala sand painting where monks painstakingly create elaborate paintings using colored grains of sand. Once the masterpieces are completed, they destroy them as a metaphor for the impermanence of life.” I thought about this concept regarding the work I have completed and concluded that what matters is not so much the design we leave behind, but what we do with the grains of sand while we have them in our hands.
People will forget what I created and fostered with hard work and love. Those who follow will not know that their quality of life was bettered by my dedication, creativity, passion, generosity and determination. But, recognition of my name and effort means little. Now able to see the “50,000′ view” I know that I have used my handful of sand to help others become better able to lift themselves with the power of their own wings, and they, in turn, have empowered other people to change their lives. This will invisibly continue to spread like ripples on water, to carry on when I am gone. Those ripples shall be my legacy, invisible but powerful.