Posted: July 24, 2012
At the tail end of a working holiday in Europe, our Swiss hosts invited us to join them for lunch at a friend’s home. For me the outing ended up being much more than a shared meal – it proved to be a cathartic experience that prompted me to reflect on what legacy I will leave behind.
Their friend, Jean-Marc, is Swiss French, an artist, a gracious host and about as eccentric as one can be, before needing to be committed.
A thin man, his long sharp featured face covered with pepper-grey bristle and his head crowned with wispy hair all combine to exaggerate his presence. Within minutes of meeting, he is larger than life. He quickly transformed into a living caricature of a quirky French artist.
We were welcomed with a glass of wine and a tour of J-Marc’s home and its grounds.
Our excursion begins with a stroll through an extensive garden with areas of rich, dense, seemingly unmanaged, exotic plants from all parts of the world through to highly organized areas of understated simplicity with Japanese influences.
A dry bamboo waterfall, pebble garden beds, lakes with water lilies, cascading waterfalls, and meandering walkways. All punctuated with sculptures and garden furniture, created by our host. Carefully placed artifacts from China, Morocco and Turkey are crafted into the scenery, none making contradictory statements about their origin in conflict with their new surroundings.
I’ve visited many display gardens but this is very different. It is a living artwork, inviting and intriguing. It draws you in and engages your every sense, each perspective stimulating a different sensation. The shapes, colours and the scents stimulate whilst the dull sound of bamboo clinking, water running and bees humming, sooth.
It’s a physically and emotionally moving experience – not just a sight-seeing.
Then to his art gallery and workshop which occupy the top level of the farmhouse that has been in J-Marc’s family for generations. The paintings, all abstract, are beyond my ability to describe. Like his garden, his use of shape, colour and imagery capture your senses and draw you in. They are striking, and collectible. The price lists lying on his workbench indicate he’s been discovered and his work in demand.
Lunch is home made pizza baked in an outdoor pizza oven using ingredients taken from J-Marc’s extensive vegetable garden. We have to work for our food, stoking the fire, rolling the dough and selecting our own toppings. Lunch is served under the shade of a trellis in the garden, the perfect setting for hours of animated conversation lubricated by local wines. Being the only person in the group of seven who didn’t speak the language, it feels like an out of body experience. I am a passive on-looker, an outsider eavesdropping on a private conversation.
As time rolls on I become more and more conscious of the presence of Marie, J-Marc’s wife, an elegant and humble woman who speaks softly and sparingly. J-Marc’s obvious respect for her contribution to the conversation hints at her well-masked strength and the valuable role she plays behind the public figure.
Between the snippets of conversation I pick up by combining the odd English word with lots of animated hand gesturers and facial contortions, I have time to reflect on my morning.
It occurs to me that J-Marc is not only making things, he is creating a legacy. Unlike mere objects, property or cash we tend to leave behind, his very persona is captured by his art, in all its forms, and he’ll be remembered fondly for as long as they continue to exist. Certainly long after he is gone. The man, his life and his work are destined to be valued for many generations to come. Every item he creates and leaves behind includes part of him, each will reflect part of his makeup, his thoughts, feelings and skills.
What, then, I ask myself, will I leave behind? A few shekels and hopefully a few fond memories held by those closest to me that will quickly fade with time?
I then recall that a friend of mine writes a letter every January, a separate one to his spouse and each child, telling them how much he cares about them, and reflecting on the last 12 months. He simply stores each letter with his Will. No one will see the letters until he passes. What a legacy for those close to him.
Being short of the artistic skills or attributes to leave behind a public legacy that will be valued, I decide during lunch to adopt my friend’s practice. At least leave my family and maybe even my closest friends something to remember me by, something they’ll value and cherish.
Thank you J-Marc.
Daily I work with families who are grieving the loss of a loved one and who are further burdened by having to deal with the mess left behind. An avoidable mess brought about through failure to prepare a Will and deal with other estate planning issues. Even if you don’t wish to create the sort of legacy I aspire to, I encourage you to at least avoid leaving behind a negative legacy. Don’t be remembered for the mess you created by not leaving your affairs in order. Don’t let your legacy be something like this; ‘Dad was a good bloke but he messed up his Will and now none of the family talk to each other. The family has been shattered.’
Go have a nice long lunch with friends, reflect on the good things in life and then do something about your future plans.
It’s never too early to begin.