My legacy is not just for myself, but will carry on for my children and their children. Something future generations can carry on and claim as their own.
A few weeks ago, I visited a more conservative Baptist church than where I’d normally attend. It was the stereotypical Easter-type sermon but before Resurrection Sunday: The pastor called out to the congregation to accept Jesus into their lives for everlasting life. If you don’t want to go to hell, you have to believe in Jesus. And that seemed to have been the focus of his preaching. It wasn’t necessarily on God’s love, or how God’s love encompasses us all — whether we’re Christian, followers of Islam, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, or what-have-you. But instead, the focus tended to center around believing in Jesus for that eternal life.
As a child, I’ve always been curious about spirituality, divine intervention, and the supernatural, especially considering some of the practices of my family. Raised in the black church, I was taught to always believe in God and put faith in place. Of course, I still had so many questions in mind, and I never took the Bible as completely literal. And being the intellect that I was at even such a young age, I needed answers. I didn’t want to be a bad Christian, but I just wanted to understand some things and how they came to be. I didn’t like being chastised for asking questions or not knowing who to ask when I had deeper thoughts and queries. My family and I would discuss some things. But many times, church would shut those conversations down, nearly to prevent a progressive approach to understand a spiritual relationship.
Nonetheless, after that Sunday’s sermon, I was not only questioning how this pastor could pick and choose believers (among a number of other things), but I also knew that there was more to life than just waiting to die. There’s more to life than just eating, breathing, getting married, and having kids. That cycle does not differentiate from one person to the next. But somehow, we seem to fall into a rabbit hole of what society expects from us. Or maybe we keep looking forward to the next life to save us and take us into that paradise that we’ve always dreamed of but were too afraid to chase in this lifetime.
But what does everlasting life mean? Does it mean that our souls will float to an unimaginable heaven, or will they stay here on Earth and continue to live oblivious to their physical state?
Being a proponent of fulfilling our destinies, whatever they may be, I feel that each person has a passion and talent that is truly unique to them. We have a duty to share that gift with the world in order to provide a positive impact, no matter how big or small. And maybe that is our everlasting life: To find a way to make our legacy transcend into future generations.
Of course, many people may think that having children is the ultimate way of planting their seed and watching their garden grow. But anyone can do that. It’s not unique to any particular person. It’s a way of life and great to expand humanity, but how does that speak to one specific individual’s existence? And what garden is going to grow if they didn’t leave their family a legacy to ensure a quality livelihood?
I’m very much into my family roots and consider myself to be one of my family’s historians. I love delving into history and researching our family tree, finding the stories of how certain relatives ended up in one place or another — no matter who the ancestors are; I want to know their histories. At the end of the day, a hint of them has influenced me in some shape or fashion to become who I am. I want to know how they came to the U.S. and where did they originate, why did they migrate from Virginia to Kentucky; I want to know their thought processes on education, their land and farming; I want to know their interests and what their desires were for their children, how they thought the world should be culturally and socially, and how would they feel now about seeing their great-something granddaughter.
As black women, particularly, our stories haven’t always been held to the pedestal to which they should have been. Yes, in hindsight, we can think back to those amazing black women in our families who persevered through troubling times, who were great maternal figures and gave us hope for a tomorrow that we never knew we had. However, our legacies among society lives as matriarchs. Simply as matriarchs. Something that any woman can do and what majority have done, whether or not they were good at it.
But they did more than that. Black women created stories and trends that we continue to live by and explore daily. Their everlasting lives have surpassed what many would have preferred. When I read the words of Zora Neale Hurston, I feel pride in my heritage that I could have had during an era that I would travel time and universes to experience. I live the soulful-resonating lyrics of Billie Holiday; I’ve danced with Josephine Baker since I was a child and still look to her for the beauty that we can make from an ugly origin. I feel the power and voice of Shirley Chisolm.
It means a lot to me to extend the legacy of my ancestors — both good and bad. And importantly, to impact communities outside of my own — in ways that I never perceived. I think that’s the goal ultimately. To provide another message to others who we’ve inspired, to give them hope beyond the obvious. To help them find their own legacies. To see the bigger picture, that our stories extend forever for others. Creating another novel larger than the ones we started for ourselves.
Ultimately, we don’t know what to expect in the next life or if there is another life. But when God says to be a follower, maybe it means to be a follower of ourselves and holding a true and ethical place in our hearts. I truly believe that there is a little bit of God in all of us, and we give ourselves the ultimate respect that we should — living our dreams, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, furthering our education, training ourselves to be a better “us.” Then, if so, aren’t we respecting him simultaneously? And when we fulfill these goals and plant our seeds, we become legends in our own rights. And our names will live on, leaving footprints in unweathered stone.