Yesterday I saw someone wearing a t-shirt with Johnny Cash’s picture on it. In general I like Johnny Cash. He had a very long career in music. I don’t have an ear that can appreciate his early material but I do like his later music quite a lot, songs such as this one.
I remember reading his autobiography in the late 1970’s. He talked pretty frankly about his early life, when the term ‘hell-raiser’ would have been an apt description. I’m guessing that the picture I saw on the t-shirt came from that era, for it was a photo of an angry Johnny Cash, defiantly making an obscene gesture.
Cash lived for quite a few years after the book I read was written. I had read an autobiography, but one that only covered the first half of a long and complicated life. I may be making a stretch of the imagination here, but judging from his later musical work and what I know of the second half of his life, I think that if he had anything to say about it that he would choose to have a much different picture as his public image on a t-shirt. I don’t think that it would be his choice to be remembered as angry and obscene. The legacy of Johnny Cash is much richer and deeper than that.
I read something just the other day that mentioned in passing how transient the legacies of most people will be. Most of us may be remembered well by our children and grandchildren, from their first-hand experiences, but when they are gone most of the details of our lives will fade from history. There will be information available to compile family trees. Personal letters may survive, as well as written accounts that we may create and pass along. But most of what we have done, and why, will fade from human history.
More public figures, like Johnny Cash, may be remembered generally for several more generations. Others, such as John Dewey, may cast an influence on aspects of society and be remembered well, but by few people. Still others, such as George Washington or Martin Luther, have cast shadows that have, and will, extend for centuries.
The words of Ecclesiastes 3:20 will apply to us not just in a physical sense, but also in terms of the kinds of people we were and the lives we led on earth:
“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”
Or do they? Will we leave behind dust, or will we leave something more?
Two examples of people whose rather small actions made an enduring impact on my life come to mind. One was about 25 years ago, when I wasn’t a Christian in any sense except a nominal one. This woman told me in the course of conversation that she would pray for me. I haven’t forgotten the setting of our discussion, nor her words to me.
The other was more recently, about 10 years ago, after I had come to know God personally and considered Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior, even if I was only beginning to grapple with what that meant. I met a man at a homeless shelter that was located in a church. I asked if he was the custodian and he replied, “No. I’m just an old man walking with the Lord.” I got to know more of his story as we ate breakfast together and that image he placed in my mind, of an 'old man walking with the Lord,' was one that I thought I could aspire towards.
I don’t know where this life will carry me, and I certainly couldn’t have predicted many of the places I have been over the past ten years. But I have travelled them with God and I look forward to continuing to do so until He sees fit for me to draw my last breath and travel home. And along the way I want to keep my eyes and ears open to the places where I may speak a small word, or say a small prayer, that God will use to eternal effect.
As much as it is up to me, that is what I would desire for my legacy. To God be the glory, now and forever.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.