“I’ve been imagining how they’ll write about me in a thousand years. If I do ever become Queen, what will I be? Insane?” In the new movie Spencer, this is how Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana muses about her legacy.
Released on Friday, the film takes place over Christmas 1991 at the Sandringham Estate, one of Queen Elizabeth II’s country homes. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the movie is just one of several new projects over the last year focusing on the late princess. Diana: The Musical opens on Broadway this month. The actress who played Diana in the fourth season of The Crown was nominated for an Emmy for her role. And a six-part documentary series currently airing on CNN seeks to reframe the story of Diana’s life for a contemporary audience.
I remember vividly the news of Diana’s death in a car crash after paparazzi chased her down a Paris tunnel nearly twenty-five years ago. The tragedy reminds us again of two facts: we could die today, but our legacy will outlive us. Remembering each fact helps us prepare for the other.
Why the Astroworld tragedy is personal for me
I’ve been especially contemplating death and legacy after hearing about the Houston Astroworld tragedy Friday evening. At least eight people were killed and dozens more were injured after a large crowd began pushing toward the stage during a performance by hometown rapper Travis Scott. I grew up in Houston and have visited Astroworld numerous times across many years. But what happened in my hometown could happen in yours as well.
It seems that reminders of our mortality have dominated the news lately:
- The number of American deaths due to the pandemic exceeded 750,000 last week.
- Marília Mendonça, a Brazilian singer and Latin Grammy winner, died Friday in a plane crash on her way to a concert. She was twenty-six.
- Saturday’s oil tanker explosion in Sierra Leone killed at least ninety-eight people.
- A series of bomb threats at Yale University caused the campus to be evacuated for five hours on Friday.
- Colin Powell was laid to rest during a private ceremony at Washington National Cathedral, also on Friday.
Yesterday’s New York City Marathon was dominated by Kenyan runners Peres Jepchirchir, who won the women’s race, and Albert Korir, who won the men’s race. Some thirty thousand competitors made the 26.2-mile journey across five boroughs. Unlike their race, which ended Sunday, your race and mine are not done until we are done.
And, unlike a marathon, none of us know where the finish line is for us.
“The land of Omri”
However, it is human nature to presume that we know more about the future than we do. Has it occurred to you yet today that you could die today? As I remind you of that fact, is your response one of urgency or one of indifference?
In My Daily Pursuit, A. W. Tozer writes: “I was scheduled to preach at a certain camp meeting one time, and when I arrived, they announced a night of miracles. The only thing that happened that night was that a man drowned in the lake. People tried to revive him and keep him alive, but he never did come to. There was no miracle around that place, at least that night.”
You and I cannot calculate today either the length of our lives or the significance of our legacies.
1 Kings 16 reports that a king of Israel named Omri “bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill” (v. 24). That’s the only accomplishment of Omri recorded in the text.
However, the English Standard Version Study Bible notes that “Omri’s house held the throne for over one hundred years, and the northern kingdom in due course became so identified with this dynasty that even after the Omride period it could be referred to in Assyrian records as ‘the land of Omri.’ This suggests that Omri was more a substantial international figure than could be deduced simply from 1 Kings.”
Why the difference? The author of 1 Kings records this as his true legacy: “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and did more evil than all who were before him” (v. 25).
“All journeys have secret destinations”
The key to dealing with mortality and writing our legacy is the same: live this day fully for the Lord and trust tomorrow to his providential purpose and care.
Martin Buber was right: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Warren Buffett added: “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” His observation is akin to Alfred North Whitehead’s assertion that great people plant trees they’ll never sit under.
If we surrender each day to Christ as our Lord, our days will become our lives and our lives will write our legacy.
Pastor Greg Laurie tells the story of this pivotal decision in the life of Billy Graham. In May 1938, Graham was heartbroken after the girl he thought he would marry broke off their relationship. He began taking nightly walks to pray.
On one of these walks, he got down on his knees and cried, “Oh God, if you want me to serve you, I will.”
Laurie writes: “After this decision, he experienced a newfound love and peace he’d never known before. A burden had been lifted and it gave him greater joy to serve. He saw in himself a new desire to witness and [to] share Christ, a new song in his heart and an unspeakable joy.”
His days became his life, and his life became his legacy.
Will you experience a “new song in your heart” today?