LEGACY OF THE HEART
Love and Creativity as Tools of Evolution
By Elena Greco
Typical reading time: 5 minutes
July 17, 2023
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. … A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. …. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.’” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
There is an intangible consciousness, energy or intelligence that exists in all things. It’s what makes flowers grow and rivers flow. It exists in us, too; it makes our cells replicate, our hearts beat, our thoughts bubble up and our dreams occur. When we stop breathing for the final time, it leaves us.
But why does it animate us in the first place? What are we ultimately?
Most importantly: In a practical sense, what is our collective purpose here as humans? Why do we exist in human form?
For myself, I don’t need a reason to be. I’m content enough in my own reasons to seize the day. My creative drive sustains me. What I’m interested in is the meaning of our lives collectively as humans.
It’s easy to see the evolutionary purpose of life forms lower on the food chain. Plankton feed small fish, small fish feed larger fish, and large fish feed humans. So who or what do we “feed” at this point in time? Now that we’re no longer fodder for dinosaurs, what purpose do we serve?
Often when people talk about death, about what we are as humans, they veer into spirituality or even religion. I’m not interested in either one in this regard, as both are speculative and neither gets at the heart of the matter that prompts me to explore the question. I’m interested solely in the practical purpose of our humanity. Surely there is an evolutionary purpose in our very existence? We continue to be born, and we continue to die. What do our lives collectively accomplish for our species?
The only purpose I can see for human existence is in how we affect our fellow humans and the future impact of legacy that we leave behind. That legacy doesn’t exist only in works of art or scientific achievements which are evident, but in the actions of our daily lives that contribute in some way to others, now and in the future. Because what contributes to one ultimately contributes to us all.
The people of my childhood still live in me, albeit most of them solely in my memory. Somehow those figures in my memory seem almost as real as the people they once were did. And what I remember of them are the things they contributed—to me and to others—and what they left behind.
The woman who suffered through pregnancy and childbirth to give birth to Einstein contributed to humanity, didn’t she? The person who gave a troubled kid a break—and that kid grew up to be a world leader who changed history—contributed to humanity. Everything we do affects others, even if most people never see it.
So it seems to me that the primary way that we leave a legacy that contributes to humanity is, first, through supporting each other through our words and actions, and second, through the creative work we leave behind that advances the lives of humans, whether a scientific achievement that makes life easier for millions or a musical work that provides inspiration to a hundred.
And this, it seems, is another reason that it’s important for us to be fully self-expressive: what is inside us, the creative drive that impels us toward self-expression in various forms, might well be valuable to others, whether now or in the future. Perhaps in future generations it can be important to the saving of our planet. Maybe it will inspire people who come after us to rise to their best and contribute their own legacy, or maybe it will help them to get through tough times so that they suffer less, learn more, and can then make their own contribution. Maybe it will illuminate things for other people, just as my recently deceased cousin Susan’s wildlife drawings show us what a rabbit is, when most of us would never really see a rabbit. Her work will affect others for decades, and those people will affect others, and so on. The work of Leonardo da Vinci still moves and inspires me with wonder, and the life and work of Maria Callas enlivens me and gives me courage. Who in your life, living or dead, sustains you?
The first time I ever heard classical music, at my mother’s feet (she died earlier this year) as she played a Schubert song on the piano, I cried. The music evoked a deep emotion in me, deeper than anything I’d ever felt. When my mother asked me why I was crying, I couldn’t tell her. I was six years old.
Music has been my salvation. Trying to get through an extremely difficult childhood, the only thing that saved me was music. It was therapy for me. It was inspiration. It was the only thing that sustained me. It was my primary language, one which others had spoken before me and which certain others understood, and one in which I could express my deepest self. It was my best friend. It was my reason for being. I gained all of that through the legacy of many great musicians, composers and songwriters who came before me—and some perhaps not so great ones who moved me in some way.
We can’t know what might be useful to someone else in the future. Schubert didn’t know the profound effect he would have on my six-year-old self and my future life, or that of so many others. Neither did Maria Callas or Einstein or Van Gogh or da Vinci or the Wright Brothers. Whether we think we’re on par with those luminaries, we have no way of knowing or judging what is or will be useful. So it’s best to express it all!
How does the musical expression of musicians benefit others? They might not know the answer to that in their lifetimes. We won’t know the full benefit of what we are and what we leave behind, either. The benefit might come in the next century. Decades later, the recordings and life of Maria Callas inspire others, give them respite, encourage them to do difficult things that require courage. All of us can name people whose existence has elevated our lives.
So yes, those people who created the music that moved me (and made me a better musician), the people who wrote the books that transported me (and taught me how to write), the teachers who provoked a spark in me, contributed to someone. And those who make music and art and theater, those who write and make scientific discoveries and create ways to make our lives better—all of them contribute to others, which ultimately helps our species evolve.
And surely that is another reason the creative and healing arts are important. They help us survive: they give us hope, they feed our souls, they fuel our creative drive, they nurture us. They leave us inventions that improve our lives and the lives of the next generation.
Einstein still lives. He lives in the information and wisdom he left behind, in the things he showed us. Really that is much more important than anything he might have done in his daily life. The essence of all people who are contributing artists to the show of humanity is what is important, not their personalities, not the things they did from day to day, not their quirks or imperfections, but the essence of who they were and the work they created and left behind.
The legacy that we leave is not always a great invention or a great work of art. Just as valuable are being loving or kind to someone, bringing beauty into someone’s life, inspiring others through our words and actions. The effect of those things continues, too. That is how we remember people and keep them in our hearts and minds: the things they left behind of themselves.
Perhaps our purpose here as a species is simply to help humanity evolve, and everything we do to help each other not only accomplishes that, by supporting each of the rest of us in leaving our legacy, and by making our time here so much richer and more beautiful.
That is really the only answer to my original question that resonates for me.
In the British television series Wallander, Detective Kurt Wallander’s father, living with Alzheimer’s and still present enough at times to know that his time on this earth is coming to an end, standing on the beach with his son, looking out to sea and then back to his son, says to Wallander: “Sit. You don’t sit, do you? You just drive straight through. Sit. Look. Find someone to sit with you. You’re not strong enough to do it alone. No one is.”
May we sit with each other.
May we help each other to see.
May we help others by offering our own self-expression and creativity to humanity.
May we share as much love and kindness as we can with those around us.
Let that be our legacy.
© Copyright Elena Greco