Some of the best teachers I ever had were instructors in art history. I had always enjoyed trips to the museum, but these two teachers I had—one in high school and one in university—took my interest to a whole new level. They taught me about how the art and architecture of different time periods and different places were a reflection of the formative stories and sense making that people did to try to understand their lives. To this day, a trip to a museum and time spent staring at masterworks and modern works alike sends me into hours of reverie about life and its meaning.
One of the most valuable lessons from art that I ever received had to do with reflecting on legacy. I was so very fortunate in university to travel with my art history professor to Florence, Italy for a weekend. While there standing in front of the Duomo, he told us the story of the artist who had won the competition to design the baptistry doors. It is a wonderfully involving story, but suffice it to say it was a significant honor and accomplishment for Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455). The doors and the images he sculpted stand the test of time. They are remarkable. Our teacher, however, had something more in mind than simply showing us this artistic achievement. He talked to us about how long Ghiberti worked on the doors. When he received the commission to work on the first set of doors, Ghiberti was 23 years old, and it took him 21 years to complete the doors. Then he was commissioned to make another set. That set of doors took him an additional 27 years to complete. As our teacher pointed out, all tolled, Ghiberti spent 48 years of his lifetime (which was only 76 or 77 years long) working on these doors. Our teacher then paused, and looked at all of us, and asked, “What would you give your life to?”
Our lives are really not that long, even if we are fortunate to have longevity. The challenge of my professor’s question and Ghiberti’s life often rings in my ears. What is worth giving a lifetime of effort to? What am I making of my life? And the older I get the more I wonder, what legacy do I want to leave behind? Am I living in such a way that the legacy of my life will be one I will feel good about or even proud of? There is no single correct answer, of course, but it seems to me there are a few fairly obvious hoped for outcomes.
A hymn we sing every so often in our church concludes, “…then we life is done for me, let love be my legacy.” Whatever we accomplish or achieve in our lifetime, a legacy of relationships rooted in love seems most meaningful. What do you want to be remembered for? How do you want to be remembered and by whom? If we all lived with an eye toward are legacy would we make different choices? Prioritize different things? I often wonder, and often think we would. What would our world be like if we all lived with a goal of leaving love behind? Wouldn’t it be nice to find out? Perhaps as beautiful as those doors in Florence. A legacy of love everywhere you look. I sure hope so.
Rev. Shana Lynngood is co-minister of First Unitarian Church of Victoria. She has lived and served in Victoria since 2010.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE