Back in September I attended a memorial for Chris Dedrick, a wonderful musician and composer, and former president of the Guild of Canadian Film Composers. It was a powerful and moving event, held at the McMillan Theatre at the University of Toronto. There were stirring speeches, musical performances, and an incredible set of slides which were projected along with Chris’ music, spanning the decades. He was involved in a number of projects, including the acclaimed band The Free Design, writing for the Starscape Singers, and a host of TV and film work. I didn’t know him well – just a few words had passed between us over the short years I’d been volunteering with the Guild and attending workshops and seminars, but I had always been impressed with Chris’ harmonic sensibilities and incredible arranging skills (he struck me as a Canadian Brian Wilson) and his gentle and generous spirit.
Sitting there in that theatre, awestruck by the music and how many people he had touched, I began thinking about legacy for the first time in. To be honest, the concept legacy had always seemed a very pompous and self-important thing – a kind of graffitti onthe wall of life that says, “Here I was, here is my work, wasn’t I great”. I don’t know what happens to us after we die, but there is a possibility that the answer is “nothing” – consciousness simply evaporates. Things which mark our stay seems kind of insignificant and pointless in that light. But there is more to it than that, because there is a world and people we leave behind, which we affect – negatively or positively.
What if I died tomorrow, I thought.
What kind of legacy would I leave behind? It made me think about the things I create, how I create them and why. I imagined myself sitting in on my own memorial and trying to think of what they’d say, what music they would play, how my life would be laid out, how they would tell the “story” of my life, what meaning it might hold. It was a pretty sobering, humbling moment. While it may seem like an exercise in morbidity, imagining yourself at your own memorial is an extremely effective way to crystallize ideas about what you want your life to be about. It’s also a kick in the pants because you realize that you have to do these things NOW – there is no waiting, time is fleeting, and every moment matters. You must start creating the meaning you want in your life now, every chance you get.
Who will you be remembered as? Were you honorable, passionate, generous, and kind? Were you driven by purpose and integrity, were you committed, courageous, a leader who inspired others?
Was your work the best it could be? Was it done from a place of passion and purpose, did it have meaning? Did you strive to make something better, to learn, to excel, and to lead?
It’s not about being ‘remembered’ – I think this is that distasteful aspect of legacy that came to mind when I used to think of the term. It’s not about quantity, but quality – not how many you touched, but the way in which you may have touched a few. If you happen to be one of the scant few who become remembered (in the grand sense), that’s amazing – but it cannot be the goal.
You have to be careful – you can get sucked into doing a lot of meaningless stuff in this life, simply by being unaware. We all get caught up in the daily doldrums, resenting the work we ‘have’ to do, and wanting to slough off and take the easy way out, but we need to keep in mind that we have the capacity and indeed a responsibility to be and do far more. We have to live now, say “I am doing”, not “I want to be doing”, and “I am”, not “I will be”.
Life is forever a work in progress. We are always striving to learn and improve, to be better than you were the day before. In being the best we can be as human beings, in doing the best work we can, and jumping into everything with love and passion, we can contribute positively to our world in some way. And, hopefully, we will inspire others to do the same.