My mom's favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.

My mom’s favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.  I think it reminds her of poems and prayers from her youth.







What is the mark we leave behind?  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

What is the mark each of us will make to leave behind? (All photos by Marylin Warner)

When I visit my mom, my favorite time is at night when she’s tucked into bed, and I pull up the rocking chair and read to her. Her favorite book—the one I always read several times from start to finish—is Joan Walsh Anglund’s A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS. Sometimes Mom naps, sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she hums along with her own rhythm to the words and poems.   All else falls away.

This is the first example on the first page of Anglund’s book. Originally the page displayed only the title, but this handwritten addition was made later:

What you do ~ What you say ~ How you work ~ How you play ~ Day by Day ~  

It all matters ~ When all is done ~ It’s what you leave behind ~ Saying who you were.

Imagine taking a philosophy class and having the professor write this quote by Aristotle on the board: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.” And then, instead of assigning some deep, intellectual essay to expresses the best way for individuals to live, imagine that the assignment was to write a very brief set of instructions, so simple a child could understand them. If a professor gave you this assignment, what would you write?  I’ve already shown you my simplistic answer. (Obviously, the assignment was not to write good poetry.)

August is WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY? month. It’s intended to be a time for us to reflect on our past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect the future and be the legacy we leave behind.

The suggestions for making the most of this month are numerous. Everything from thanking those who have made a difference in your life to “Playing The Legacy Game” and having everyone in your group tell how they would like to be remembered and what they can do to make this happen.

What you decide to do—if anything—is up to you. I’m fairly certain that if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would say that since she and Dad were married in August, everything that came out of that union—including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the business they built and the differences they made—was their legacy.

If thinking about your legacy—or writing a bad poem about what you want to leave behind—isn’t what you want to do, August has numerous other opportunities. It is also Happiness Happens Month, Boomers Making A Difference Month, and Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. You’ve already missed Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night and National Garage Sale Day (both on August 8th) and S’mores Day (August 10th), but you can go ahead and do those things anyway.

That could be your legacy…breaking the rules and doing things on the unexpected days!

P.S.  —   https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015  The link I gave for the 50-word Gotham contest had an “invisible space” (according to the very nice Gotham editor who responded to my email cry for help.)  Here is the correct one, which seems the same, but the space has been removed.   I tried it, and it works!  Jump right in and enter by the 17th!!!           black butterfly

grasshopper on leaf


Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

50 responses to “WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY?

  1. juliabarrett

    You are your mother’s legacy. Her love is her legacy. It will live on through the generations.

  2. Oh, Julia. Thank you.
    My mother had great love before the dementia, and even now there are hints of it continuing in spite of the confusion, so I think it will live on through the generations.

  3. It appears there’s much more to August than just the return to school. Love the idea of reflecting on our legacy. And the zucchini on the porch thing. That’s pretty funny. 🙂

    • I have a friend whose bumper crop of zucchini last year had her creeping over to her neighbor’s house and leaving a dozen in a paper bag. They still laugh about it, Carrie. He pushed it off the porch with a rake, thinking it was filled with dog poop, left there by an irate couple down the street who kept telling him to clean up after his dogs.
      Now that’s a legacy to leave behind. 😉

  4. I like to have a neighbor that puts zucchini on my doorsteps. I have to get it from my girlfriend. For me August was always a “get ready for the new school year month”.

    • For thirty years, Gerlinde, August meant we were getting ready to teach high school students, even as our daughter was getting ready to start the school year in our neighborhood school across the city from where we taught. Now it’s very nice to call and talk to our grandchildren about their first days of school…knowing that we’re past that and can sleep in.

  5. Reading and rereading a book like that to your mother must be a comfort because of the familiarity.Despite her illness I’m pretty sure parts of the book will stay with her. Having your voice, the voice of someone she loves and knows she loves, do the reading will bring her such peace. No wonder you often find her humming along.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  6. Thank you, David. I hope that at least for some of the poems and prayers, she hums along because it is comfortable and familiar, even if she doesn’t totally understand everything. During this last visit, when I reminded Mom that our dog Maggie had slept beside Mom’s recliner when things got chaotic, she nodded and said, “I know.” It was such a nice surprise, to learn that she remembered.

  7. I am glad there is a month to think over this. At the moment, I am back working on de-cluttering. If I don’t make more progress, my legacy will be clutter.

  8. What if you don’t have zucchini – can you leave a different vegetable 🙂 I love the idea of neighbours secretly leaving vegetables on one another’s porches! Legacy is very interesting to me, I don’t have children to carry a legacy on so it may be that I won’t have one that passes on through the generations, but then you never know what you do that makes a difference.

    • As a high school teacher for 30 years, Andrea, I noticed that when students wrote personal essays about the adults who made a profound difference in their lives, very often the adults were not related to them at all, but the specific examples of kindness and helpfulness and listening were profound. You don’t need to be a parent to leave a legacy with a single good act that improves another live.
      And as for leaving a secret gift of zucchini on a neighbor’s porch, I say that it’s the thought and generosity that counts more than the specific vegetable. I was in third grade when my mom showed me how to make May Day baskets out of construction paper and then fill them with cut flowers and hang them from neighbors’ doors, ring the bell and run and hide. I still remember the looks of joy and surprise on their faces when they opened the door.

  9. I could picture you sitting by your mother’s bed, reading her favorite book, Marylin. Such a sweet imagine.
    Like Andrea, I don’t have children of my own, only nieces and nephews. I would hope my legacy would be love and kindness.

    • It really is my favorite time with her, Jill. She’ll have her eyes closed and I’ll think she’s asleep, but as soon as I stop reading she’ll say, “More.” So I’ll read another and she’ll start humming, and it’s very special.
      I can speak from experience and say that aunts are essential in children’s lives. I’m sure you’re leaving a very important legacy.

  10. Thanks for the reminder about the contest. I entered something today! Still not sure what my legacy will be. My grandchildren have been calling me the Book Gramma for some time now. Maybe that will be it. My advice to them is – follow your dreams!

    • I’m so glad, Darlene. I entered mine two days ago. At first it didn’t work, but when I emailed Gotham asking for help, the editor was so prompt and nice and gave me the improved link.
      Book Gramma…what a precious title! That’s part of your legacy with them.

  11. Don

    I think for me Marylin legacy has to do with presence.When I think of the significant people who have come and gone in my life it’s their presence, just who they are or were, that provides their legacy. Sometimes it’s simply one deed that forever stands out for me. I think legacy lives and moves in the realm of simplicity.

  12. I mentioned to my sister recently that one reason writers write memoir is to sort out the disparate parts of their lives and try to find meaning. My sister mentioned that that is for someone else to do. She went on to elaborate: Mennonites (and Amish) think it is presumptuous (and prideful) to tell others what you think your life contributions have been, in other words, announce your legacy. I didn’t tell her then that I thought she was confusing finding meaning with the definition of legacy.

    I have been thinking of her comment, and what distinction there may be between finding meaning in one’s life and leaving a legacy. I doubt they are they the same thing. Does finding meaning lead one to recognize one’s legacy? Does one follow the other? Still thinking . . .

    On a lighter note: I have always loved Joan Walsh Anglund’s books, which I read to our children. Also: the bower of flowers on the bike: portable beauty.

    Your posts never fail to delight – and instruct.

    • You offer some interesting points of view on this, Marian. The Brethren and Mennonites are very similar, and my grandmother’s perspective on legacy was more of a living legacy, values and lessons shared by example. Like you, I think theres a difference between finding meaning and announcing legacy as such.
      I loved the “portable beauty” of the bike basket, too.

  13. Claudia

    Oh, such a timely post as this August is so full of endings and beginning in my family’s life! Been trying to deal with, maintain my sanity, and to turn around some negative feelings to positive action. The quote about actions being habit…oh boy, I am going to think THAT one this weekend. Thanks!

    • Actions becoming habits–and repeated thoughts becoming destiny, too–are lessons that have made a big difference for me, Claudia. August is a month full of endings and beginnings, and I wish you many successes during the next few weeks.

  14. The legacy I leave? My son, with his over riding passion for wartime history which at the moment eclipses everything else in his life but which has given him some extraordinary friendships. I hope he’ll be able to pass on his passion to someone somewhere so that the torch of memory will be forever carried.

    • That kind of passion for something has the capacity to light the torch for others, Jenny, so I think your hope for your son will be a reality. That will be a shared legacy for you both.

  15. Marylin, your posts never disappoint. There are always many gems I take away after reading. I guess Aristotle knew what he was talking about: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.”
    And you make a habit out of getting to the heart of the matter and helping us look inside ourselves. Thank you.
    As for me, I hope I leave people smiling and comforted and empowered.

    • Thank you, Vivian, for those kind words. I appreciate it so much.
      Your writing, and your posts sharing the writing of others to encourage children, is your legacy. You always leave us with terrific ideas and smiling over the recipes and crafts.

  16. Marylin, I love to read to my mom. Mostly we read bible passages and the church bulletin. She can still read large print books but I still love reading to her.
    I’m not sure what my legacy will be. Perhaps for me it is my children as well. They are something to be proud of.
    Blessings, Joanne

    • Joanne, when I think of your family gatherings and meals, and the careful and loving attention to detail you provide for each wedding you plan and carry out, I believe that you’re leaving legacies in everything you do.

  17. Marylin … You are carrying on what you learned at your mom’s knees. That has to be a parent’s best gift, knowing that s/he instilled great values in his/her child.

    My legacy? I think it’s going to be break the rules and doing the unexpected. That means … I’m going to celebrate S’mores Day even though it’s already past. 😉

  18. Jim

    I usually associate the word “legacy” with people who have made heroic sacrifices or accomplished great things, and we remember them by erecting monuments to them or naming buildings and bridges in their honor. However, Marylin, your blog about your mother illustrates a legacy of another sort. Your blog reminds us that everyday people are often worthy of noble legacies. This blog about your mother is a collection of examples of how Mary Shepherd has loved her family, worked hard every day, exercised her creative talent in small ways, reached out to those in need, and always used common sense and humor while striving to make things right.

    If only your mom could understand and appreciate how well you are honoring her on these pages . . . I wonder sometimes what would happen if you were to read short excerpts to her. Even if you said, “That was about you, Mom,” and she answered, “Me?”, that would be something. Love you.

    • Thank you, honey. You’ve done the same for your mom, your aunts, and your uncle with the stories you tell and the memories you keep alive. All of your everyday people, and mine, too, are worthy of noble legacies.

  19. Cheryl Blacklidge

    Mom and I were mentioning your mom and dad just this morning. Another part of their legacy was the number of people they invited to First Christian Church. It would be interesting to know how many people they broughto the church and how many stayed to be a part of and work in the church. Ray and Many were and are such an inspiration to so many people.

    • Thank you so much, Cheryl, and your mom, too. Your parents and mine all share a legacy with First Christian Church. In addition to all the hard work they all contributed, there’s the lighter side, too. Part of your mom’s legacy and mine will be their shared decision to stop wearing hats to church. Now that’s a legacy! 😉

  20. I love the idea of sneaking zucchini on a neighbour’s porch at night! August is special to me as it’s my dad’s birthday (and I got to spend it with him, he is 83 now) and one week later my daughter’s which we just celebrated at the weekend. Lives that couldn’t be more different but instead of looking at my dad’s alcholism and prison terms I look at what he gave me as a child, in the stories he told me and the games he played and the walks in the woods sharing his love of nature. I love A Little Book of Poems & Prayers, I have such a lovely vision in my mind of you sitting next to your dear mom as she smiles and naps and you reading to her 🙂 What a wonderful legacy of love and peace and contentment, and carried on by you here as you share your gratitude and love for your mom in your writing. And so her legacy carries on, through your beautiful words dear Marylin 🙂 ❤

    • Sherri, you are a positive legacy of you dad–regardless of where he is now and his situation–because you are the continuing testimony of the stories he told you, and the the way he shared his love of nature with you during the walks–and that’s the legacy of a loving and helpful daughter. August is the birthday month of both your dad and your daughter, and you are the wonderful common denominator, Sherri.

      • Thank you so much for this dear Marylin, I can’t tell you what this means to me reading this today…bless you…

      • I meant every word, Sherri. I have great respect for your unblinking honesty about your father’s life and your daughter’s struggles. Everything you say is upfront but also tinged with great love and loyalty. You are the center person of three; you inherited great beauty, nurtured it, and passed it on to the next generation. Celebrate both of their birthdays this month with great enthusiasm and gratitude, Sherri! This is your legacy!

  21. A thought provoking post, Marylin. It came through that you are remembering the wonderful legacy of love and family both your parents have and will leave. And I’m certain Molly feels the same way about you. And “A Little Book of Poems & Prayers” sounds like a wonderful book.

  22. I have done a lot of reflection on this very subject with my mother passing away recently. Courage – kindness – fairness – are the three values I feel my mother passed on to me, that I would like to live by, and I would like to pass on to others.

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  24. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always helpful to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from their sites.

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