The Legacy of John Chapman

Legacy has come up as a topic in several conversations of late. It’s a subject that I think about quite a bit, especially as I’m aging and looking at how our values evolve and grow over the years. Legacy to me used to be about what I left behind and how I would be remembered in terms of accomplishment and contribution. I see it differently now. Now I see it as being about what I live more than what I leave – what I begin more than what I finish.

The impact of our lives is most valuable when we see it from the perspective of how we influence the lives of others. As a life coach, I recognize that my role is being a catalyst. It isn’t my role to create personal change. That is up to the client. I can plant the seeds but they must be the ones to take on the job of gardener and bring them to life.

This thought brought me to the idea of a tree. I still believe that trees are the best example possible of what legacy really means. When a tree is planted, we know that it’s fullness will only be realized over time, in fact over many years. My brother and I planted trees in our first backyard with my Dad. We lived there 15 years and they were still not at their peak. We visited another 10 years later, 25 years after they were planted and we were in awe of them. But our connection to them came from the fact that we had been there when they were just a seedling. It was such a privilege to go back and see them after all that time and appreciate what had come from our effort.

That’s the thing about legacies, it’s not common for us to be able to witness their full value and impact because what we plant with our lives continues to grow long after we’ve moved on. We want to KNOW what we’re leaving. But in truth, what we leave is so much more than we can ever imagine.

One legendary figure that’s specific to trees that bears mention is John Chapman. You know him best as Johnny Appleseed.

The most popular stories about him have him spreading apple seeds randomly everywhere he traveled. That’s not really what happened. The true story is that he traveled, extensively. And he did plant apple trees. But with absolute intention. He planted nurseries. He even built fences around them to protect them.

Once they were established, he would leave them in the care of someone local and they would care for them and sell shares of their produce for their mutual benefit.

Each year or two, John would return to check the health of his nurseries and quite often expand them. He was without question a dedicated conservationist but he was also a sound businessman and even then, knew the value of passive income and wealth building from the earth. When he died, he left over 1200 acres of orchards to his sister.

He was considered somewhat eccentric, hence the folklore, but his real legacy was in those trees and what they represented.

It’s not enough to just plant the seed. We must take care for the growing of it and then entrust it to others so that we can move on to plant again. As the Greek proverb teaches:

We must be willing to plant trees

whose shade we will never sit in.

It’s such a powerful metaphor for how to live a meaningful life. Those powerful words from Albert Einstein come to mind again: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Isn’t that the ultimate legacy? The creation of value that continues to grow beyond us?

Live today like you want tomorrow to be. Live well.