What Kind of Legacy Are You Living? Thoughts on the Passing of Barbara Bush

By Rev. Jordan McKenzie

This weekend millions of Americans watched the funeral of former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away last week at the age of 92. One of the most popular First Ladies in recent memory, Bush was a woman of many accomplishments. Not least of which, of course, was being the matriarch of a very influential family, as she was the wife of a President (George H.W), mother of a President (George W.), and mother of a Governor of Florida (Jeb). That’s not to mention several other very successful children and grandchildren she helped raise.

As if raising her family didn’t keep her busy enough, Barbara Bush was also active in public life. She was lifelong champion of children’s literacy, believing the ability to read and write could open endless doors for young people. She was also a committed advocate for cancer research, which was due in part to her losing her daughter Robin to leukemia at the age of three. All told she and her husband ended up raising hundreds of millions of dollars for those and other charitable causes. She also made the courageous decision to be photographed holding a baby who had AIDS, which was seen as taboo and dangerous at the time. This proved to play an important part in the country moving beyond the AIDS epidemic.

After I heard about her death (it was plastered as “Breaking News!” on every tv channel), I posted on Facebook that I’ve always admired Barbara Bush. Not that she was an idol of mine or anything, but every time I saw her I was impressed. Somehow, she seemed to be able to exemplify the qualities of grace, faith, and conviction all at the same time. Her passing harkens back to a time that seems to have been lost from our national memory, a time when those involved in politics could have strong convictions and fight for what they believed was right while also maintaining a level of integrity and class. Sadly, today we have too few public figures like Barbara Bush.

When I think of Barbara Bush, I think of how she lived her life. She was a fully authentic person. Or what the educator Parker Palmer calls “an undivided self.” You knew where she stood; there was no hiding it. But her strong convictions were all grounded in a deep concern for others, most importantly her family, who lovingly called her “the enforcer” for her no-nonsense, tough love style.

While I think the effects of her public persona and her advocacy will live on for generations, I believe it will be that influence on her family that will be her most lasting legacy. The people that she loved and raised will always be influenced by her wisdom and wit, as they continue to shape our world. Whether or not you always agree with their politics, through them, she leaves a very proud legacy.

The truth is, all of us will leave a legacy. It’s our choice what kind of legacy. We all have a choice to make a difference in our own way. We all have a chance to leave the world better than we found it. We all have the chance to make those around us better. Or not. It’s our choice.

Yet for those of us who call ourselves Christians this actually is not a choice we have to make, as we’ve already committed to it. We are called by our faith to become people use this “one wild and precious life” (as the poet Mary Oliver calls it), to be someone who God uses to make a difference. Indeed, the real question today is not what choice you’ll make, but what choice you’re already making. In other words, the question is not just what kind of legacy you’ll be leaving when you’re no longer here, but rather what kind of legacy you’re living right now. Are you living up to Christ’s call to make a difference for good today? Are you living that legacy, today? If so, how are you living that legacy?

God bless Barbara Bush and her family. May God comfort them in their mourning and strengthen them in their sadness. And may God continue to use all of us for God’s purpose. Amen.

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