Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Vanilla Legacy

Did you ever hear about Edmond Albius? Yes, he had a name like a Harry Potter wizard, but he was more than just a name, and our lives would not be the same without him. Albius was born into slavery, but in 1841 he invented something that changed our world forever.

Before Edmond Albius changed things, Mexico was the only place in the whole world that could grow vanilla. There's a sting-less bee in Mexico that is the only bug in the world that naturally pollinates the Vanilla Orchid. Without pollination these orchids won't produce vanilla pods, and the pods are the tasty part. Sadly leaving Mexico means leaving the bees. No bees means no pollination and no pollination means no vanilla.  A Belgian botanist did invent a way to pollinate the orchid artificially, but his method was unusable and laborious.  Then in 1841 Edmond Albius took a stick and invented a simple technique to pollinate vanilla orchids. After over 150 years we still use that technique. Almost all vanilla on earth is pollinated this way.  He is the reason I get to enjoy vanilla. Oh yeah, Albius was only twelve years old when he figured it out.

This story stirs my desire to be remembered. Vanilla is grown globally because of Edmond Albius.  I may never do anything so globally important as that boy did.  This bothers me.

It's a basic human impulse: We want legacies. We want to leave something indelible that will be around after long after we're dead and gone. People build companies, challenge governments, break records and even wage wars with this end in mind. We do so in vain. This world is temporary. None of our legacies outlast us.  C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit, immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

I love this quote. It makes me question my longing to be remembered. I hope it makes you do the same because we are more permanent than any of our accomplishments. Our neighbors, enemies and friends are more lasting and valuable than anything we can build.


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
What do you treasure?  Is it of earth or heaven?  Lay down your worthless treasures.  Jesus is happy to forgive you if you have clung to the wrong things.  He is also happy to replace those old "treasures" with beautiful new ones, because he treasures you.


  1. i think i get stunted by the weight of possibility. i don't really care so much about being remembered. i want to have worth for me--to end the day knowing i had actually done something. but what that something could be baffles me.

    the what am i made for, and what am i capable of, and am i really willing to do what it takes to do those things...there's where i get scared, and i often stop.

    i treasure the people around me. i just don't know what to do with me.

    great post, thanks for it.

  2. I don't want to be remembered necessarily either but I do want Jesus to be known, and feel that I have to do all within my ability to spread the gospel of salvation through Him.


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