His name was Dr. Benoist Troost. Born in Holland in the 18th century, he emigrated to the young United States of America and eventually settled in western Missouri, the first physician to live in his area. He was part of building the first hotel and investing in the first railroad. When the Town of Kansas was founded in 1850, he was on the board of governors, and he also helped establish the first newspaper. He died in 1859, and was buried in a local cemetery. He was clearly known by many in the area and probably respected and revered for his dynamic character. Today his name is only remembered as a street that used to be the North/South dividing line between races, and a portrait by George Caleb Bingham that hangs in a local art gallery.
This week is All Saints day, and Monday we celebrated the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles. We can only imagine what people like them are like: they were important enough to be on the list of Apostles in the Gospels; they meant a lot to the members of the early Church, but aside from a few legends their personal stories are lost. So it is with the vast majority of saints: they were a vital part of many people’s lives at one time but not are only names on lists and feasts on calendars today.
However every people, every culture owes much to unremembered people. The world wouldn’t be here as we know it were it not for them. They loved and were loved, strove for a higher purpose, suffered hardships and celebrated joys, mourned in their passing, remembered by those who knew them, and were considered worthy of some lasting mark. The power of legacy is fragile, fame is fleeting, as Shelley’s famous sonnet, Ozymandias, reflects. The lasting monument to most saints, recognized and unrecognized, is in the world all around us, usually without our realizing how the world we know came to be.
Our legacy is beyond our control. Someday this planet will be dust and all of the human race will be forgotten. Sometime we will all be names on a list. The important thing about legacy is to live life well today, be our best selves for others today, embrace our God through our actions here and now. Saints may be unremembered now, but they set a high bar for us, and remind us that as ordinary people, life as witness to God’s love and mercy is possible for us. It doesn’t matter when we become unrememberd: what matters is we are trying to be saints today.