A Proper Burial

Long ago, a friend taught me the meaning of the phrase “you die twice” and I wrote about it. I’ll get to that in a moment. It surprises me that the very modest traffic that reaches this blog usually gets here from web searches that take them to that post or to another one I wrote about “blind robins.” (A traffic monitor informs me which page each visitor’s IP address lands on.)

If it weren’t for searchers led here by their interest in “you die twice” or “blind robins,” the traffic here would be almost nonexistent. I know a few people read what I write with some regularity (and I thank them!), but that number is extremely small. I can count those fairly regular readers on the fingers of one hand, leaving a thumb free for use in hitchhiking. As I’ve said before, I write these posts for myself. But I admit that the lack of readership among even my friends and family can be depressing at times. I understand that people are busy, but it would make me feel a little less irrelevant to know that people are sufficiently curious to know what’s on my mind to visit from time to time. “Irrelevant” is a bit too strong a term. “Ignored” is the proper term, I think. Yet still I write. So, yeah, it’s primarily for me. I wouldn’t be approaching 2700 posts if I were writing for an audience. I guess it’s to release pent-up thoughts in my head to avoid an explosion.

Back to the phrase I mentioned first. “You die twice” suggests that a person dies the first time when his body gives out and dies when his name is spoken for the last time. Thereafter, he is no longer even a memory that matters. That’s a sad thought in some sense, but natural and understandable and expected in another. I’ve written about the matter, albeit not necessarily addressing it directly, several times before. Memory. Legacy. “One’s mark on the world.” In reality, evidence of most of us eventually evaporates, leaving not even an indentation in the space we once occupied, believing it was sacred space meant only for us.

“Who was that woman who lived alone sixty miles outside of Fort Boise in 1829 but was never heard from thereafter? Who was that bachelor who arrived in Galveston in 1899 and was swept out to sea in the Great Hurricane of 1900?”

Almost no one knew those people then and no one remembers them today. The questions about them are artificial; whether the people were real or simply sprang from my imagination doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter any more than the absence of memories about them. Their sacred space is busy accommodating “butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairy tales.” (At least until the memories of Jimi Hendrix fade into oblivion.)

Memories of us might linger a little longer through our writing or the music we play, though it seems unlikely in my case, given the paucity of people who’ve read my copious blather. And it won’t be music for me, inasmuch as I’ve never written any. But memories might linger longer if one writes a memoir. A friend asked the other day whether I’ve considered writing a memoir. “You’ve led an interesting life,” she said. I thanked her but silently wondered if she knew of any memoirs of a life like mine that anyone would consider reading. She mentioned something else, a little later,  she said bored her. “It was like watching paint dry,” she said. That’s what reading my memoir would be like, I thought. People who spend their careers in white-collar offices working with people they find only moderately tolerable don’t make good memoirists.

With that as a temporary backdrop, I often wonder what day-to-day life was like for people who lived in farms and in small-town America in the late 1800s and early 1900s; their memoirs or better yet meticulous journals would make interesting reading, I think.  I’m afraid our knowledge of history is too often based not on facts but on our interpretations of evidence that suggest facts. We fill in the blanks with what we believe the evidence suggests to be true, but we don’t know.

All the aforementioned blather notwithstanding, the world would be a dark, hollow, ugly place if people focused their attention on the fact that our brief existence ultimately will matter to no one. At some point in our lives, perhaps for entirety of our lives, we matter to someone. That, alone, provides solace against the knowledge that we’re nothing more than infinitesimally small microscopic specks in an immeasurably enormous universe. That fact that we have the wherewithal to think we matter even a tiny bit to a minuscule sphere of other beings for an instant of time too brief to measure against a spectrum leading to eternity should give us some sense that our presence has some meaning, however brief.

The words we leave behind, whether in our notes or books or plays or blogs or music what have you can postpone but cannot prevent the inevitable. Eventually, our words will no longer be associated with the name of the person who wrote them. Our names will eventually be spoken for the last time. It’s indisputable. The time it takes might be short or it might be long, but time will eventually snatch our memories from the universe.

While we’re here, though, we might as well make the most of it. Enjoy what we can and make our marks, knowing full well they will not be “lasting” in the true sense of the word. All our legacies can do is to prepare our memories for a proper burial in the fog of time, when our names are spoken for the last time.

 

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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