Some things are ours to do because they have been left unfinished. St. Augustine once said that nothing truly important is ever accomplished in one lifetime. What a humbling thought; all we do is play our part as long as we can, and then we pass the baton to someone else. Progress is, by its very nature, multi-generational.

 

I love the story about Puccini, who wrote a number of famous operas. In 1922, he was suddenly stricken with cancer while he was working on “Turandot.” Many think it was his best work, but he was not able to finish it before the illness took his life. As he was dying, he begged his students to finish the work for him.

 

          After his death, Puccini’s students studied his new work carefully and were eventually able to complete it. “Turandot” was performed for the first time at La Scala, in Milan . Arturo Toscanini, who was one of Puccini’s brightest students, directed it.

 

Everything went beautifully until they reached the point where Puccini had been forced to lay down his pen. Tears ran down the director’s face as he stopped the music. Putting down his baton, Toscanini turned to the audience and said, “Thus far the Master wrote, ’ere he died.”

 

          A vast silence filled the opera house. Then, Toscanini picked up his baton and, smiling through his tears, said, “But the students finished the work.” When the performance reached its conclusion, the audience rose as one to applaud the Master, and his disciples who continued the work. 

 

          Having marked another birthday, I am increasingly conscious of the legacies we leave. The fact is that we seldom, if ever, leave finished products and accomplishments. More likely, we are like Puccini, leaving off in mid-phrase, hoping that those who come after us will pick up where we left off. 

 

          Being an amateur but avid sailor, I have often seen a sign at the entrances of marinas that reads, “You Are Responsible For Your Wake.” What that means is that one must be conscious of the effect one’s life has on others. We may be making waves, but we must remember that our waves can do damage. On the other hand, those left behind might find themselves blessed by what we left to them. 

 

          I am indeed responsible for my wake. Others are depending on me.

 


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