The spring flowers had just begun their bloom in bright contrast to the old stone house I walked by. The house would easily date beyond a hundred years old, the precise craftsmanship on full display as each rough fieldstone, laid side by side, one atop the other, are connected in perfect symmetry. It looked solid, impressively well built. I’m sure the foundation would remain another five hundred years. It was a beautiful structure to admire, the work of proud craftsmen.
Who were these artisans who sweat and toiled to create a place that would protect and harbor children, parents, and generations through the centuries? Do I know the name of the person who conceived and drew the plans for this home? Do I know the masons who labored under the hot sun and for scant wages mixed their magic mortar and, with the eye of one sculpturing a masterpiece, placed each stone elegantly in its proper place?
The answer is no. I don’t know the people who had their hands in the creation of this home, but I see the effects of their attention to detail; I envision the callused hands adjusting the position of the rocks, standing back at the end of a day, hands on hips, sweat across their brows, their nods in agreement—today was a good day. We created something good, something to withstand the test of time, seasons, and storms. Let’s go home to dinner.
One hundred years later, I too stand amazed at what was accomplished.
Do I need a legacy? Should I care what I do today toward a view of what may be thought of me after I die? Am I building something that will stand after my bones have been reduced to dust, scattered across the Wisconsin countryside? I am not an architect or builder of physical structures. Beyond the faded picture or nostalgic knickknack, physical clues or telltale signs that I ever existed will not be found.
I teach. I write the occasional letter. In a digital world where everything is at once immortalized forever and at the same time lost with the press of delete, what effects will my teaching have in the years to follow my ongoing and inevitable demise?
Should I care?