Two recent events reminded me of the profound legacy a book can leave.

Legacy-in-a-bookFirst, I finished When Breath Becomes Air, a book by the gifted neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. Paul died of lung cancer last Spring, at the age of 37. When Breath Becomes Air was published posthumously.

When Paul found out he had cancer, in spite of his workload as a surgeon, which continued for a time, and in spite of his disease, he worked diligently to complete this book. For Paul, this book meant celebrating life, embracing death and being face-to-face, toe-to-toe, hand-in-hand with both.

His book is a legacy; a gift to an infant daughter, Cady he leaves behind. Through this book, Cady will know who her father was and how he loved her. Paul’s wife and now widow, Lucy will have, in this book, some of Paul, to ease her in dark or melancholy hours. Those who knew Paul in life will remember him through this book. Those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing Paul in life can know him now, through this book.

Because of Paul, and the book he left behind, all of us can understand the truth that death is an inexorable consequence of life, and through Paul’s words we can learn to accept it when it comes with grace and courage; loving those we love even more as we say goodbye.

Second, I met with a man, not a young man, but full of life, energy and vitality. His life has been one of service, leadership and inspiration. Today he leads pastors of more than 2,000 churches, representing almost two million Christian believers around the globe.

We were discussing the possibility of publishing a book he had yet to write. One of the problems was his schedule; he was just too busy to take time out to write a book.

I asked him, “with your history, experience and vision what is it that you believe is most important to leave for those who will come after you?” I saw his eyes light up! That was the reason for a book; regardless of his hectic schedule, he had to leave the best of his years of experience, understanding and knowledge to those who would come after him in leadership and ministry. He knew he wouldn’t serve in this position forever, and he knew that those who came after him would need and appreciate his wisdom and counsel. The only way to insure he would be “available” to them was to give himself to them in a book.

Both of these instances brought back to me the idea of legacy. A legacy is something handed down from  a predecessor, like an inheritance. To me, it’s the something, the very best of me, I want to leave behind for those I love and those who would come after me. Something that will live after me, and something in which my memory or service may be kept alive. That was Paul Kalanithi’s reason for writing a book. It’s the reason my friend who resides over 2,000 pastors will write his next book. To leave a legacy.

When you think of writing a book, think of the very best of you being poured into the pages; think of the legacy you wish to leave.

For more information about Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air just click on the Amazon link below.

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