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Of legacies and what our descendents may learn about us

Saturday, July 19, 2014 - 12:01 am

At my age a man (or woman) begins to wonder whether their life has made any difference. What legacy are we leaving behind, if any?

I can pretty safely assume there will be no buildings, bridges or highways bearing my name. No foundations, scholarships. No monuments.

And I can’t point to anything I’ve ever done that will be mentioned in a history book or engraved on a plaque. And I guess that’s OK, because I’m not after adulation or glory.

But I, like probably most responsible citizens of the world, would like to leave a legacy of meaning and purpose — to believe I have made some positive impact.

A Virginia pastor, Dr. Ron Jones, was talking about legacies on his program on a local Christian radio station this week in posing the question, “What will your descendants discover about you and your family?” He used two early American people as examples of legacies left through their descendants.

His first example was the great 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards of New England. Among his descendants were one United States vice president, three U.S. senators, three governors, three mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 college professors, 80 other public officials, 100 lawyers and 100 missionaries.

Jones’ contrasting example was a man named Max Jukes, a contemporary of Edwards whose family was studied in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was discovered that dozens of men in various New York jails were members of the family descended from Jukes, who was born in New York in the early 1700s.

Jukes’ legacy? He was the ancestor, according to Dr. Jones and other historical sources, of seven murderers, 60 thieves, 50 prostitutes, 130 convicts, 310 paupers and 400 people whose lives were physically affected by indulgent living.

The point of Dr. Jones’ message on legacies was that the legacy we leave may well be through those who follow after us.

Let’s face it, few of our lives have the impact of the likes of da Vinci, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, Pasteur or Edison. But there are scores of incredible people in our own community whose contributions to society and the betterment of their fellow men are making a difference every single day. And it’s those selfless, driven individuals who cause me to question my own contributions and the legacy I may be leaving.

I’m convinced the best things I will leave behind are my children and subsequently my grandchildren and their children on down the line. And looking at that legacy unfolding before me at this point is pretty encouraging.

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.