Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Leave Your Legacy

 

Last month, we lost iconic character actor Harry Dean Stanton. A rangy Kentuckian with a prematurely craggy face, he was a fixture in American cinema for the past half century. His presence drew the viewer into his world-weary eyes, wondering about the depth behind them. All the while, he possessed an innate cool; a Hollywood version of Johnny Cash.

Reading various encomia about his passing, I came across one tidbit I can’t stop thinking about. A few years back, his similarly spooky friend David Lynch posed a question to Stanton: “How would you like to be remembered?”

Stanton’s answer: “It doesn’t matter.”

At first I thought it a sardonic comment by a cantankerous old guy who had seen it all, but soon found the great wisdom in it. As humans, we’re always trying to create a legacy, whether amassing a great fortune, accomplishing historic feats, or raising kids who will end up doing both. That’s why Stanton’s answer, especially coming from a self-obsessed world like Hollywood, seemed so jarring.

Due to a mix of turning 50 last year, the dementia dissolving my father’s mind, and my late introduction to Stoicism, I’ve been dwelling a lot on mortality. Not in a brooding or suicidal way, just trying to accept where it fits in the grand nature of things. Losing a parent, as I did my mom a decade ago, is no tragedy; it sucks — really, really bad — but it’s the proper order of things.

I’ve actually been spoiled in this area. I’ve never lost a child, a close friend, or dealt with any near-death experience myself. But death, paradoxically, is a part of life. Facing it with courage and compassion, rather than fear and fretting, is essential to one’s personal contentment.

Not to bore you with too much ancient Roman wisdom, but Stoicism centers on dividing everything into two categories: that which is under your control and that which isn’t. This enables you to focus on those things in the first category rather than bang your head against the wall fighting those in the second. “We cannot choose our external circumstances,” the philosopher said, “but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

Of all the things utterly out of our control, what people think of us when we’re gone is way up there on the list. Stanton wasn’t worried about the future, or what people whispered about him after he was dead and gone. Instead, he focused on the present. Until his last breath, he was acting in great films, singing favorite songs, and enjoying the company of his loved ones.

That’s a pretty solid legacy.

There are 34 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Arahant Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: “We cannot choose our external circumstances,” the philosopher said, “but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

    This is also one of the primary messages in the Bible. Life is about the choices we make.

    • #1
    • October 19, 2017, at 5:08 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    A beautiful reflection, Jon. Thanks.

    • #2
    • October 19, 2017, at 5:18 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Front Seat Cat Member

    In your serious and very thoughtful post, I had to smile when you said you were having these mortality and legacy thoughts at 50. It’s like stepping over an invisible line. That’s when due to some mysterious list, you start getting hearing aid offers, AARP membership mail and funeral expense assistance. Weird!

    But I thought the comment by Stanton and how he wanted to be remembered, “It doesn’t matter” was terribly sad. Some good things happen as I age – in that it does matter. I spent too many years foolish and self-focused. Faith now matters greatly, how I make others feel matters greatly to me. Harvey Weinstein will be remembered by how he lived – Mother Teresa who had nothing is remembered by millions by how she lived. It matters in this life, but more importantly, in the next.

    • #3
    • October 19, 2017, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Ray Inactive

    I love Harry Dean Stanton, and I also loved his reply to David Lynch, which I first read a while back.

    Death, where is thy sting?

    • #4
    • October 19, 2017, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    But I thought the comment by Stanton and how he wanted to be remembered, “It doesn’t matter” was terribly sad. Some good things happen as I age – in that it does matter. I spent too many years foolish and self-focused. Faith now matters greatly, how I make others feel matters greatly to me. Harvey Weinstein will be remembered by how he lived – Mother Teresa who had nothing is remembered by millions by how she lived. It matters in this life, but more importantly, in the next.

    Here was my takeaway: If you don’t care what others think of you when you’re gone, but instead focus on doing good in the here and now, you will end up leaving a richer legacy.

    • #5
    • October 19, 2017, at 6:21 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I do have one more thought. I can kind of appreciate what Stanton said. I don’t think it matters if people celebrate me after I die; life is more about my knowing that I made a difference while I lived, and I hope I will know that from most people who matter to me. Mostly, I also hope that I do good.

    I think, too, that I appreciate being a hospice volunteer because as you say, Jon, death is part of life. We begin to die the moment we are born. So we’re called to make the most of each moment while we’re here.

    • #6
    • October 19, 2017, at 6:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    But I thought the comment by Stanton and how he wanted to be remembered, “It doesn’t matter” was terribly sad. Some good things happen as I age – in that it does matter. I spent too many years foolish and self-focused. Faith now matters greatly, how I make others feel matters greatly to me. Harvey Weinstein will be remembered by how he lived – Mother Teresa who had nothing is remembered by millions by how she lived. It matters in this life, but more importantly, in the next.

    Here was my takeaway: If you don’t care what others think of you when you’re gone, but instead focus on doing good in the here and now, you will end up leaving a richer legacy.

    I think our comments crossed each other! ;-)

    • #7
    • October 19, 2017, at 6:25 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. JcTPatriot Inactive

    Just beautiful. Thank you, Jon.

    • #8
    • October 19, 2017, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Mountie Member

    I start my morning meditation with this book. You might like it.

    The Daily Stoic 

    I’m also reading this one

    The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living 

    I too came late to Stoicism.

    • #9
    • October 19, 2017, at 7:19 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. MLH Inactive

    Mountie (View Comment):
    I start my morning meditation with this book. You might like it.

    The Daily Stoic

    I’m also reading this one

    The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

    I too came late to Stoicism.

    Wasn’t Stoicism given the bum rap of “you’re holding it all in” for a couple of decades? Being late to the party isn’t your fault. Be glad that you got there/here!

    • #10
    • October 19, 2017, at 7:31 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Henry Racette Contributor

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Of all the things utterly out of our control, what people think of us when we’re gone is way up there on the list.

    It seems likely that what people will think about us when we’re gone will bear a striking resemblance to what they think about us while we’re here — barring some unexpected posthumous revelation, of course. Does Mr. Stanton’s comment work as well if it’s restated as “I don’t care what people think about me now?”

    On the one hand, many of us probably have an unhealthy sensitivity to the opinions of others. (I would expect thespians to be particularly so-afflicted.) On the other hand, a too-casual disregard for one’s reputation, while undoubtedly very liberating, might pose a moral hazard for most of us.

    I attended an uncle’s 80th birthday party a few days ago. When a man has that much living behind him, the kinds of things said about him by friends at a birthday party are, to a surprising and sobering degree, much like the things that would be said about him at a funeral: glowing reminiscences delivered by old friends have the quality of a eulogy.

    As I listened to one account after another of the positive impact my uncle Charles has had on so many lives, and in so many different ways, I found myself hoping that I might warrant such appreciation someday — whether when I’m 80 or when I’ve expired.

    So, pace Mr. Stanton, I think I do care how I’m remembered.

    • #11
    • October 19, 2017, at 7:31 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  12. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.

    Mountie (View Comment):
    I start my morning meditation with this book. You might like it.

    The Daily Stoic

    I’m also reading this one

    The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

    I too came late to Stoicism.

    My first Stoic book was Meditations. I was shocked by how many parallels there was to Christianity. I wanted to shake Marcus Aurelius by the toga and say “you’re so close!”

    • #12
    • October 19, 2017, at 7:32 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  13. D.A. Venters Member

    I think “rangy Kentuckian” is about the best epitaph a man can hope for. The picture is that exactly.

    • #13
    • October 19, 2017, at 9:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. John Davey Member
    John DaveyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I hit 50 earlier this year. I hail from a large family – 7 kids, 3 girls, then 4 boys, including me. My father was the 9th of 10 kids, and was raised by his sisters, as his mother passed giving birth to my uncle (kid #10).

    I was #5, and by the time I arrived, both of my father’s parents had passed, as well as my mother’s father. We lost two of my father’s brothers before I was 10, and my grandmother by the time I was 8.

    My wife’s brother died at 28 -we were the same age – complications from diabetes, kidney failure, and a staff infection he picked up in the hospital.

    Dad died at 78, 12 years ago – cancer. We lost mom in 2011 – leukemia. All of my Dad’s family is gone. So I have been exposed to loss, and a lot of it.

    In 2006, my neighbor from across the street, a Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff was killed, with his own weapon, during an early morning traffic stop in a rural part of the county. He left behind a 6 year old son. His impact on his family, and our community, was immeasurable.

    Our friend passed suddenly last week at 51 – she felt flu symptoms, but was up and about, busy as always. She went to sleep, and never woke up. We knew her for 8 years before we built our home in 1995 – they built their home across the street, 3 houses down, a few months later, sheer happenstance.

    Listening to the wonderful stories of love and happiness from her family and friends at her memorial Tuesday, I was reminded that our legacy isn’t exactly what we leave – sure, there are accomplishments, and achievements. There are our kids. Our true legacy is what we were able to give our family, our friends, and our community. The joy, love, and support we foster in our lives is the true yardstick.

    • #14
    • October 19, 2017, at 9:59 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. DocJay Inactive

    A great actor and a solid read on life. It’s meant to grok.

    • #15
    • October 19, 2017, at 10:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Mike Rapkoch Moderator

    The nuns used to provide their pupils with a single rule for right living: “Do good and avoid evil.” Over the years, I have been told again and again that this is just too simplistic; that we must see the “deeper” meaning, or get with the way of the modern world. Well, all I know is what Sister Rose Eileen told us. It may sometimes be hard to see the good you do, but the evil is clear as a bell. Applying her advice has certainly helped me avoid some poor choices and helped me do some good things. If I were emperor, and as everyone knows I should be, I’d have the words do good and avoid evil engraved on every school, public building, and monument in the country.

    As for mortality, my greatest fear is that I will then stand before an omniscient God who cannot be bull#4@%, not even by a pettifogger such as myself.

    As I grow ever older, I have found some words from T.S.Eliot’s Little Gidding helpful and a bit frightening, especially about the things we’ve done which we thought were good…

    Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
    To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
    First, the cold friction of expiring sense
    Without enchantment, offering no promise
    But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
    As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
    Second, the conscious impotence of rage
    At human folly, and the laceration
    Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
    And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
    Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
    Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
    Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
    Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
    From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
    Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
    Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.”
    The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
    He left me, with a kind of valediction,
    And faded on the blowing of the horn.

    • #16
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Front Seat Cat Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Of all the things utterly out of our control, what people think of us when we’re gone is way up there on the list.

    It seems likely that what people will think about us when we’re gone will bear a striking resemblance to what they think about us while we’re here — barring some unexpected posthumous revelation, of course. Does Mr. Stanton’s comment work as well if it’s restated as “I don’t care what people think about me now?”

    On the one hand, many of us probably have an unhealthy sensitivity to the opinions of others. (I would expect thespians to be particularly so-afflicted.) On the other hand, a too-casual disregard for one’s reputation, while undoubtedly very liberating, might pose a moral hazard for most of us.

    I attended an uncle’s 80th birthday party a few days ago. When a man has that much living behind him, the kinds of things said about him by friends at a birthday party are, to a surprising and sobering degree, much like the things that would be said about him at a funeral: glowing reminiscences delivered by old friends have the quality of a eulogy.

    As I listened to one account after another of the positive impact my uncle Charles has had on so many lives, and in so many different ways, I found myself hoping that I might warrant such appreciation someday — whether when I’m 80 or when I’ve expired.

    So, pace Mr. Stanton, I think I do care how I’m remembered.

    Henry – You captured my thoughts 100% – I didn’t know how to say it. Jon is right – if we go about life not worrying about what others think, but caring about others period – the legacy part will take care of itself. A very memorable post to that testimony was by @phcheese back in June about his mom:

    http://ricochet.com/438142/qotd-june-2217-life/

    • #17
    • October 20, 2017, at 6:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. YouCantMeanThat Coolidge

    Perhaps I’m a born stoic? I remember a bull session long ago (LBJ was pres) and far away in which the subject of funerals arose. I suggested that anything more extravagant than Sears good(1) garbage can on the regular pickup day was a waste of money. The reaction I got from my fellow immaturati was such that I never vocalized the thought again. Perhaps Mr. Stanton had once said a like thing and knew better than to repeat it. Still, from very early, even good altar boy that I was, I recognized that funerals and by extension any memory or memorial are for the living, not for who has passed. Attempting to specify; to plan the funeral, to write one’s epitaph or obit, is vanity. Worse, it runs the risk of a clash between what you were and what you thought you were being laid bare with no opportunity to defend or even to explain. (And this goes both ways; ask me about my son’s funeral, if you wish, for a story of one far better than he or even I imagined.)

    BTW, it is a scream to think that 50 is any more meaningful than was 30 or 40. Wait until 60, when various warrantees begin to expire… and you learn that there are fun effects of aging about which you have never heard.

    (1) For you yoots who do not recall the late and lamented Sears catalog, the hardgoods and particularly the tools featured a product range from “Sears Good” to “Sears Better” through as many adjectival gradations as needed. Arguably the ultimate exemplar was the miter box, which had (IIRC) four (or five?) gradations from Sears Good (three pieces of wood nailed into a channel for the cut stock and guide slots for the saw) to Sears Best (an extravagant device with precision tweaks and adjustments, frankly far beyond the ability of any hand saw to actually execute).

    • #18
    • October 20, 2017, at 6:49 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Arahant Member

    YouCantMeanThat (View Comment):
    I suggested that anything more extravagant than Sears good(1) garbage can on the regular pickup day was a waste of money.

    I laughed.

    • #19
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Doug Watt Moderator

    I would like to be remembered as a good husband, good father, good grandfather, and a good friend. Anonymity has it’s benefits.

    There are two good reasons for an open casket funeral. The first is that you get to see a person you loved one last time. The second is that you can verify that a total rotter is actually dead, and there will be no more surprises.

    • #20
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:15 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. YouCantMeanThat Coolidge

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    The second is that you can verify that a total rotter is actually dead, and there will be no more surprises.

    A scene in Charade the deeply impressed my yootful self: Katherine Hepburn at her late “husband’s” Viewing when one of the baddies stomps in, jabs a pin into the deceased’s wrist, checks for a reaction, and stomps out…

    • #21
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:42 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  22. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brings us back to Tom Wolfe, A Man In Full, where the hero embraces Stoicism after the world has fallen apart. I still go back to John 14.

    • #22
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:59 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  23. Henry Racette Contributor

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):
    Brings us back to Tom Wolfe, A Man In Full, where the hero embraces Stoicism after the world has fallen apart. I still go back to John 14.

    That was my first thought as well.

    • #23
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:27 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. DocJay Inactive

    The life of a repo man is always intense.

    • #24
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  25. Arahant Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    The life of a repo man is always intense.

    Not always. Sometimes, they’re happy to turn the car over, because it’s a piece of junk that barely runs. Had one like that. Had to jump it where we picked it up. Jumped it two more times to get it back to the office, maybe a mile away.

    • #25
    • October 20, 2017, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dad. If they remember me for that, what else is there?

    • #26
    • October 20, 2017, at 11:56 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  27. Profile Photo Member

    I used to be fearful about what people thought about me. Then one day I had an epiphany: Stop caring about what people think of you and start caring about people.

    If you do that, your legacy will take care of itself.

    Note: I’m still working on it, but I’m a lot further down the path in my 50s than I was in my 20s.

    • #27
    • October 20, 2017, at 7:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. EmilyRossBlasdel Inactive

    Only those who know us deeply can truly appreciate our contributions to this life. I’m not a stoic by any means. I am an empath. Everything that is eating away at someone bothers me. I attract people who need to talk – People that need to feel understood. My lesson learned from this is to guard myself from some people who will drain energy and life from you. Hold yourself together, but still care about and pray for others. Well, I’m rambling. The point I come to is this: I’ve experienced death all around me since I was six years old. It didn’t make me hard and stoical. It made me soft and breakable. Everyone is different. I have prayed to be different, but I am what God made me to be.

    Your commentary is very nice and gives a different slant on how we view death. For me, it means a better one.

    • #28
    • October 20, 2017, at 8:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. Ansonia Member
    AnsoniaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Here’s my takeaway: If God knows who you are and what you did, and if you leave for others something better than they would have had without you, then does it always matter if those others don’t know specifically what or how much you did ?

    This thread is going to have me looking for that Robert Frost poem, the one in which the guy walking along comes across, and enjoys, flowers someone else planted. He feels the presence of a kindred spirit, and less alone because of the flowers, even though he’ll never know who planted them. He knows someone did.

    • #29
    • October 20, 2017, at 11:07 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Not to bore you with too much ancient Roman wisdom, but Stoicism centers on dividing everything into two categories: that which is under your control and that which isn’t. This enables you to focus on those things in the first category rather than bang your head against the wall fighting those in the second. “

    Oh, you can still bang your head against the wall, even as a Stoic: unfortunately it’s not always obvious which category something’s in.

    Incomplete knowledge means being gambling on what’s in which category, and even good gamblers lose. You can try completing your knowledge to avoid this problem, of course, but knowledge acquisition is also costly.

    • #30
    • October 21, 2017, at 7:12 PM PDT
    • Like

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.