The Legacy Of January’s Renewal
As we’re just past the longest night and the shortest day of 2020, we begin the new year, 2021. It’s a perfect time to focus light on some basic principles of legacy and the practice of writing legacy letters.
The format of a letter was first used by “ethical will writers” in ancient times. The obligation as well as the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing learning and wisdom is similar to the ancient, though modern-day legacy writers spread light to loved ones and future generations by writing about many subjects and occasions.
We differentiate legacy writing from storytelling in its basic purpose: to communicate and preserve values, blessings, and love for future generations.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
― Brené Brown
Before we write, a few words about context. Preparing to write a legacy letter, you may sit alone at your desk, at your computer, be cozied in a rocker with afghan and cup of tea. You may have at hand your favorite pen or a freshly sharpened #2 pencil with its eraser. You may have lit a candle and turned on your favorite music. This is your personal context.
Include in your preparation your awareness that we don’t live in a vacuum, that we live in a particular time, and place. As our family history shaped us, we are also shaped by the context of the time in which we live. I’ll suggest two that might find their way into your legacy letters now. Both can be seen in relation to darkness and light.
First, and perhaps simply, it’s January, when each day since the winter solstice is a little longer. In a Washington Post article, Judith Levine explained: “The midwinter holidays originated in pagan rites to seduce the sun back from the under-world.” Today, as in pagan times, we yearn as individuals and culturally for more light in a dark time. It’s no wonder we light candles as part of our holiday rituals, and try to push back the darkness by decorating the outdoors with a profusion of holiday lights!
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
― Leonard Cohen
But the darkness of 2020 was greater than the calendar. It was the year of the pandemic, when COVID-19 affected the globe as well as every aspect of our individual and family lives. We are living in the darkness of a global health crisis, a local, national, and global economic crisis, and for all of us the darkness of an unknown future. There is a ray of light, like a candle in the night, with the successful development of vaccines that could light the globe in 2021.
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
– Edith Wharton
- Consider writing a January legacy letter, an opportunity to dispel the dark with the radiant light of your being for someone(s) you love.
- Tell your loved ones the story of your personal experience and learning in 2020, and your hope for the light of 2021. . . (How different in intent from the usual annual letter recounting the year’s activities, or a listing of New Year’s resolutions).
- Then bless them with light to illumine their way with hope for the future. (You might even accompany your letter with a beautiful candle!)
- Share the context of the past year to record and preserve this most unusual year for generations a hundred years from now.
- Write “process notes” directly after writing a legacy letter. Process writing, the mental counterpart of your heart-filled letter, adds light and clarity to your learning. Process notes (reflective writing) is a gift you give yourself.
May your legacy writing be a prayer and a gift to those you love this January and may your letters light up their lives and be cherished always.
– Rachael Freed
Rachael Freed, LICSW, senior fellow, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, is the author of Your Legacy Matters, Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs & Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient. Rachael can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.life-legacies.com