What will your legacy be?
Today, I visited a 3500-year-old ruin on the Island of Santorini in Greece. Around 1500 B.C., a large settlement of ancient people was destroyed in a single moment by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. Volcanic ash and mud covered the town until 1967 when Greek archaeologists discovered the site. It was preserved by volcanic ash and mud, much like the Roman city, Pompeii, was preserved by a similar volcanic eruption in 40 A.D.
Archeologists believe that this part of the island was actually first visited over 5000 years ago by an ancient civilization of which little is known. The Minoan civilization, found on Crete, also disappeared after the volcanic eruption on Santorini. Historians believe that a huge tsunami destroyed the ancient cities. These ancient peoples were highly sophisticated architects and artists with indoor plumbing, predating Roman times by 1500 years.
As I wandered through the ruins, I wondered—Who were these people? What did they believe? How did they live? What was important to them? Some beautiful murals of men and women were found in the preserved buildings. The foundations of three story buildings, walls, and some streets were found, along with pottery and other artifacts.
What was their legacy? Thirty-five hundred years from now, what will future archeologists know about our civilization? Will our monuments be forgotten? I imagine them finding the husks of cell phones--metal, wire, and batteries. Will they wonder what these devices did? How we lived? What will be built over our houses and streets? Will they find large television screens buried in garbage dumps? (Archeologists reap their biggest finds in ancient landfills)
What legacy will our civilization leave behind?
Santorini’s eruption, the end of ancient civilization on the Island, reminds us that our lives come to an end too, sometimes suddenly, and without warning. What will our legacy be? What will we leave behind? How will we be remembered? Some Native American tribes say that a person lives until the last person that knew them dies. It is only then, when our lives, through the memory of others, come to an end.
Very few of us will leave works of art or scientific discoveries that will withstand the test of time. Most of us are ordinary people, who will have lived our lives, pursued our dreams, formed relationships and friendships with others, raised families, had children, and will have had a small impact on the world around us. After walking around these ruins, I understand the Buddha’s observation that each of our lives are like a flash of lightning in a summer sky.
Since I don’t expect to leave anything that will be remembered 3500 years from now, or even a century from now, I hope that my legacy will reside in the memory that others have of my sojourn in this life. I hope that my friends and family will think of me as a kind and compassionate person who was generous and giving. I hope that the people I helped as a psychologist will have benefited from their contact with me. I hope that my children will remember me lovingly as I remember my parents.
It’s not necessary to visit ancient Greek Islands to consider what legacy you hope to leave. My guess is that it won’t be money, the number of likes you get on Facebook, or how successful you were in your career.