We should examine the legacy we are leaving for the future

Published 11:59 pm Friday, October 23, 2009

When news reports announced that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it brought to mind the history of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year and the man for whom they are named.

One news article stated that the Nobel Peace Prize is decided by a committee selected by the Norwegian legislature. The committee includes current and former members of their parliament. The first U.S. President to receive the prize was Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for helping negotiate peace between Japan and Russia.

The Nobel prizes are so named because a man wanted to make sure that he would be remembered for generations to come, but not for what he accomplished in this life. After his death, he wanted other people to receive recognition for what they had accomplished.

One morning in 1888, a Swedish chemist named Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who amassed a fortune from the manufacture of weapons, awoke to read his obituary in the newspaper.

Alfred’s brother had died and a French reporter mistakenly wrote the obituary about the wrong brother. Nobel was not only disturbed by the error, he was shocked to read how his life would be remembered.

“The dynamite king,” as his obituary stated, was also described “as a great industrialist who made an immense wealth from explosives.” As far as the public was concerned, this was the entire purpose of his life.

His true intentions had always been to break down the barriers that separated men and ideas, yet he would only be remembered as a merchant of death. As he read his obituary, Nobel determined the world would know his name for a different purpose.

Alfred Nobel decided his last will and testament regarding his wealth would show the world his intentions. He set up a fund of approximately $9 million, specifying how the interest from the money would be used.

Annual prizes were to be awarded to people whose work must have benefited humanity. He died in 1896 and the first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901. A medal and a cash award are given in five categories – physics and chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economics.

I’ve heard it said, “If you get up in the morning and you don’t read your obituary in the newspaper, it’s a good day.” Of course, it is said in jest, but think about it. Each new day is a gift from God. “This is the day the Lord has made,” the Psalmist wrote (118:24).

Every morning we should be thankful to be alive, especially considering the alternative. We have another day of life and breath to make the world a better place in which to live. Helen Keller once said, “I will not just live my life. I will not just spend my life. I will invest my life.” Or, in the words of theologian Matthew Henry, “It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day.”