Death and Legacy

The need to leave behind echoes of one’s own existence

Recent events got me thinking… got me down… got me a little gloomy… and naturally led to thoughts of death and legacy. 

The Queen is dead, long live the King. Of course, Her Majesty’s passing has caused many to pause and ponder the passage of life (I was going to say ‘fleeting’ but in her case, it was a little more than that). However, her remarkable reign is not one where any concern for legacy might be raised. 

From her visage indelibly reproduced on pound notes or coins, plus stamps and whatnot; to her influence, involvement and even just backdrop presence in cultural events that have shaped modern history; her not insubstantial, and certainly not inconsequential, 96 years, are etched into memories for potentially generations to come. 

“The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind”

John Allston

On the other hand, my personal dive into the depths of despondency started some days before the Royal passing, as sudden news came of the shock demise of a personal contemporary. A fellow motoring journalist and editor, Amit Benjamin, formerly heading up Wheels magazine in Dubai, tragically fell victim to cancer. Far too soon, far too young.

Admittedly he was always more a rival than a friend, as I was editor of Car Middle East magazine in Dubai during most of his time at Wheels. Nonetheless when the news hit, it felt like we had lost one of our own. And it hurt. Much more deeply than I would have expected. 

He was a slight chap, but nonetheless a formidable force in the UAE’s automotive media arena, winning scoops and exclusives, raising the profile of Wheels magazine, and giving that magazine greater credibility and authority than it had ever had. 

Amit Benjamin, former editor of Wheels Magazine, recently passed, seen here on the right

From afar he won my respect, when we started to interact more, I knew we would be mates. There was certainly no denying his impact and achievements. 

Now he has passed. And what’s perhaps equally sad is the magazine itself, once one of the most powerful motoring media outlets in the UAE, also ceased publication a couple of years ago. Not an unusual fate for periodicals these days admittedly. 

But with that being so, here’s the thing: what trace remains of all of my preeminent peer’s hard work, impact and significant accomplishments? Perhaps some dusty, crumply copies of the older issues of the mag on some diehard fan’s shelf? And the dimming memories of mopey old journalists like yours truly? 

Thus the motivation for my mental malady. I don’t know if it’s particularly endemic of us creative types, or if everyone harbours such all-pervading passion for their work, but speaking from experience, I’ve always given my absolute all to the creation of content over the years. 

“The need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”

Stephen Covey

From newspapers to magazines; digital to broadcast; interactive to live presentations, I always unleash the full Shahzad! It’s possibly a terrible admission to make, but truth be told, no other aspect of my life gets that – neither friends nor foe, nor family or health, not even spirituality and contemplation – except maybe now. 

For one thing what has become apparent over the years, is that having invested all of my mind, physicality, spirit, emotion, energy and very being into the work I’ve done, the return on effort has been surprisingly, astonishingly, dramatically, depressingly miniscule and cursory by comparison. That’s not to undermine the proud highs of my career, nor to belittle the influence it’s had on others. It is however, to question the bearings of legacy, in particular my legacy. 

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”

Benjamin Franklin

You see mortality I can just about cope with – when it comes to myself, and myself alone. After all, I’m over the half-century mark. The time ahead is less than the time behind, that much is a given. Few of us benefit from the longevity of a Royal matriarch. 

And nor would I want to, really. I have no wish to overstay my welcome. There’s a great line in a Batman movie from the Chris Nolan era, fortuitously spoken by the Harvey Dent character (Two-Face): ‘You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain’. 

To me that quote works on so many levels in the real world, having witnessed the aging process and how it ravages and reduces the faculties, frankly I wish to be gone, long before I outlive my usefulness on this spinning globe. May God bless me with aptitude, ability and autarchy until… my time is come, be it today or years hence. 

But what about after that? I’m not referring to afterlife, but once again that question of legacy. We mortals can live on only through what we leave behind. We can make our mark, imprint our tracks on the Earth, create lasting monuments to our existence. If we’re very fortunate.

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

William James

Look back at my resume and key milestones will immediately emerge: becoming Saudi Arabia’s first motoring journalist; launching award-winning websites; reinventing magazines; editing the UAE’s most prestigious motoring title (a standard-setter of its day); launching new brands; driving some of the rarest, most thrilling and desirable cars ever; success at radio, TV, hosting live events and more…

But it’s all ephemeral. 

Some… actually most of those enterprises have already eroded, crumbled to dust, been carried off and dissipated by the mildest of passing winds – be they of change or otherwise. Time can heal, but time can also turn milestones to mist. 

So then. Must do more; must create more; must mean more! Clearly, I’m nowhere near done quite yet.

‘I was here, I did stuff, I meant something!’ The lament of those passed on and forgotten. And, my greatest fear, one day mine own. Unless… Well, unless what?

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you”

Shannon Adler

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