By: Chris Warren.
King or peasant…we all have a legacy
Hardly anyone wants to talk about their own mortality. There’s no benefit in tip-toeing around the topic or assuaging ourselves with euphemisms for death. No matter if one is a king or a peasant, or how great or meaningless one’s contributions are, in the end we’re all just a pile of carbon. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and all that. The most we can hope for is to leave a legacy, a spirit, for our heirs to follow.
The concept of mortality is certainly not new to me. But like most everyone else, I don’t think about it unless I have to, and recently, I had to. Earlier this summer I contacted an attorney to have a will drawn up. Since I have no spouse, children, or direct heirs, dying intestate (ie, without a will) would create quite a legal mess for my surviving friends and family. This process coldly reminded me that it’s not a maybe. I’m going to die, someday. If I really care about the people in my circle, and I truly do, why not make it easy for them?
When no one speaks your name.
Aside from accepting our own eventual deaths, it’s even more difficult to realize that at some point our names and memory will be lost forever. Somehow, somewhere, your name will be spoken by someone for the last time.
Names such as William Shakespeare, Jesus Christ, Napoleon, George Washington, and various monarchs are timeless. We still know and talk about historical figures who have not walked the Earth for hundreds or even thousands of years. In another thousand years, they will likely still be relevant.
But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about ordinary people like me, and probably you too. After my death, loved ones will likely often mention my name. But as they also die off there will be fewer and fewer people around to remember and talk about me. Eventually, there will be no one.
When that moment comes will be different for everyone. Due to the internet, records of our lives could linger far beyond our biological function. It’s entirely possible a curious distant descendant will look for me in obscure archived on line documents. It may take hundreds of years, but someday, my name will be spoken for the last time and at that point I will truly be forgotten.
Every single run down, neglected, abandoned cemetery was once pristine and well tended. Loved ones regularly visited and caretakers maintained the site. Little by little the mourners stop visiting, the caretakers fall away, and nature reclaims the place. The gravestones become weathered and illegible. No one will remember the souls in the graves. This is the fate of all cemeteries; it’s a metaphor for what will become of all of us.
Your legacy can live even if your name doesn’t.
If this sounds dark & disheartening, have hope because although our names and memories may be finite, attitude, spirit, and legacy can last forever. What you do for others will have an endless ripple effect. If you were kind to others, if you were helpful, even in a small way, that spirit will carry forward. The direct beneficiaries of your good deeds will in turn “pay it forward” and so on and so on. In that regard, you really will “live forever”. Of course, not everyone will be grateful for your kindness, and not all of your acts of charity will be perpetuated, but if you are consistent in your goodwill it will rub off on enough people to have a net-positive effect.
Who we are and what we mean to others is not confined to words and the direct memory of others. More importantly, we should seek to leave a positive legacy for others to replicate after our names and life stories are forgotten. Goodness does not need to have a name attached to it.