What is a Legacy

compassAs Alexander Hamilton lays dying, in the waning moments of the Broadway play Hamilton, he asks a question that had been his life’s driving force – “What is a legacy?”

Clearly, a legacy consists of those salient events that help us define who our ancestors were. But I think the more important question in our time is do we use the legacies others left behind as a compass to help us safely navigate through life’s troubled waters?

pioneersWhen President Hinckley was alive, he sought to expand the pioneer legacy of the Church to be more inclusive. He wanted this growing global community of saints, the vast majority of which have no bloodline to the pioneers, to share in their defining experiences. The foundation of President Hinckley’s vision was to be built on the bricks of stories.

I am convinced that stories are the most effective means to connect with those who have paved the way for our success. This is what Helaman felt when he named his two sons Nephi and Lehi. Helaman told them:

Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.  Helaman 5:6

Of course, when Helaman named his children after these role models, there was no guarantee a name, alone, would dictate their destiny. My guess is Helaman made sure his children were well acquainted with the stories of their ancestral namesakes. To be effective, he had to make those stories relevant to his children.

That is the key.

readingA legacy is lost when we feel our forefathers are less relevant to our times and allow their stories to fade. Each story lost upon the ash heaps of history, through our neglect, is a tragedy.

I learned this lesson in the attic of my childhood home. As I was retrieving my suitcases in preparation for my mission, I happened upon my father’s missionary journals. I spent hours sitting in the hot attic reading every page of those journals. Here was my father’s personal account of his mission just as I was on threshold of mine. That was nearly 40 years ago and in my mind’s eye, I can still see the precious pages he wrote at the end of each day.

northstarHis stories, success and failures, became my north star when I was needed guidance.

I feel that by including Helaman’s plea to his children, Mormon is challenging us to learn from legacy. In our time, stories can more accessible than ever. The Internet allows for easy discovery, preservation, and distribution of stories creating a web interconnecting people to those who have gone before us. Let’s accept Mormon’s invitation to make the legacy of others a vital part of our lives.

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