The Tynemouth Priory sits on a cliff top spot overlooking the wide and grey North Sea. It’s just a collection of lovely ruins now, the few rooms of the castle open to the birds who make their nests in the stones, and as we walk down the grassy nave of the church, the sky is the high ceiling, the walls mostly gone, so we can wander in an out this sacred space as we wish.
The graveyard here is less ancient. People have still wanted to be buried on this holy site centuries after the last holy men were sent fleeing to safer walls. We wander together through the stones, this friend who’s known me know for over ten years of life.
The lines of grave stones face out to sea, at varying angles and depths in the soft ground, and at different stages of neglect or erosion.
We discover one, its surface a beautiful engraving by the sea winds, rivulets of stone carved by salty rain until it resembles a moonlike landscape.
No names or dates remain. No words at all. Whoever this gravestone was raised to remember is now long gone, and long forgotten. The salt air does not discriminate when it wipes the stone clean.
At some time, maybe two centuries ago, grieving family and friends gathered here to bid this person farewell, to promise to honour their memory, never to forget their life and love.
All gone now. Not even a name remains. And yet I find myself wondering if perhaps a legacy still remains somewhere?
Perhaps a business that was started, a house built, a foundation donated to, a church planted.
And love. Love is a powerful legacy that echoes down through the generations. A father loves his son who loves his wife who loves her daughter. When we’re taught, when we’re given a demonstration of true love, it stays with us, and lasts beyond us.
I want to leave a lasting legacy. Some days I desire a name that will survive me, be spoken by generations to come with gratitude and respect.
Mostly it’s a selfish desire, I see that. But I’ve been learning recently, that there are layers of desires in me, like the layers of an onion. And if I peel away those selfish top layers, maybe at its root I’ll discover that the desire for legacy is something positive and beautiful.
It takes many years for a vine to produce fruit that is good enough to make the best wines. But that wine will be laid down to age in a safe place, allowed to mature until years later someone draws it out gently, wipes away the dust, and declares that this is a very good vintage.
The original plant is long forgotten; no one remembers which row of plants these grapes were plucked from, the hands that picked them will have grown wrinkled and old with time. But the wine, its legacy, is enjoyed and celebrated.
Maybe this is the kind of legacy to seek after, not one that remembers my name, but the legacy of the fruit my life produced, laid down to mature until the best of wines is created and enjoyed. I was made to bear fruit, fruit like kindness and peace, like faithfulness and joy. Fruit like love. And fruit that will last.
Oh that love might be my life’s legacy, the one word that remains on my tombstone when all the others have been eroded away by a salty sea wind.