A visit to an old cemetery that reached capacity ten ore more generations earlier tells the story of the enduring legacies most of us living today can expect to leave. At most, we will leave a barely discernable name on a piece of weathered stone. More likely, the name will be illegible, time and the elements having erased physical evidence of our existence. Or there will be no chiseled monument; only a vague record, purposelessly kept on magnetic media, for curious future generations to examine. Our lives will have been lived and forgotten. Our achievements and our failures will have long since disappeared into the mist of irrelevant history.
Neither children nor grandchildren nor great-grandchildren nor any that follow will remember us. No other family members, nor friends nor strangers, will pay homage to us. No one will owe us reverence. In the future, we will not have mattered. If we have any hope of mattering, we must matter today. For most of us, our only hope of mattering is in this brief moment in time. Now.
None of us are Abraham Lincoln, whose words have been etched in our collective national psyche ever since he spoke them at Gettysburg. But his words at that time and in that place were foreboding for the rest of us: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…”
So…what? If we want to matter, we must matter today. We can offer gestures that tell others they matter. We can acknowledge other people and their contributions to our lives. By expressing or demonstrating to people around us that they matter, today, we matter. Today. Yesterday is irretrievably gone. Tomorrow is not assured. The only moment we can effectively shape is now. A quotation, misattributed to Maya Angelou (but adapted from and traced to a high-level official in the Mormon church) is relevant to this observation:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
That sentiment is true. Unfortunately, while generally a positive sentiment, it can be a deeply painful reminder that one has said things that should never have been said. Things that can never be erased. Hurts that can never be healed. Damage done that can never be, and should never be, forgiven. Especially by oneself.
I suppose I’ve inadvertently argued against myself when saying now is the only moment that matters. Those moments in the past that cannot be reversed also matter. Those haunting moments that highlight one’s glaring faults can matter more than anything one does now. No penance can absolve one of those irreversible moments. Perhaps that reality is why now matters so much. If for no other reason, recognizing the impossibility of reversal should give one reason to pause before uttering words that cannot be retrieved, leaving a legacy of regret etched forever in one’s mind.