Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

What’s It All About?

on 26 September 2011

A few months back, a friend of a friend died. Though I didn’t know him, I was sad for her and as a show of support Mum and I went to this man’s funeral.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and this one was unlike any other. No singing, no photo montages. No songs at all. Instead, the man’s son gave an hour long biography of his father, pausing only to invite certain key figures from his father’s life to come up and speak as well (my friend being one of these people). However, what really struck me was what an awesome life this man led. Really, he did things that most of us can only dream about. It was a good, long, full, exciting life.

Except, I found myself being really sad that I’d never met this man. I’d have loved to hear him tell these stories.

Then, I forgot all about it.

That is, until tonight. Mum and I went over to help our friend with moving some stuff out of the deceased man’s house in preparation for an estate sale. She gave us the grand tour of the house, ending in a room that must have served as a sort of study for this man. Hung all over the walls in this room are commendations, signed prints and pictures, and other documents recording the wonderful things that the man had done.

His family does not want them. They will be sold in the estate sale.

This knocked me sideways. This man devoted his life to a career. He worked really hard doing dangerous and crazy things. He earned rewards and commendations that few people do because of his hard work.

And they will be purchased by a complete stranger for…what use? It won’t conjure up memories of this man for them, they don’t know him. The buyer won’t know what this man did to earn that certificate, or how he was presented with this commendation.

The name on those documents means nothing to them.

What then, is the point of all this? Those things obviously brought joy to him, brought to mind good memories and proud thoughts. Now, they simply are an impersonal collector’s item.

Is this what life comes down to? All the things that defined this man’s life, all the things that made him proud…they are being assessed for their market value. And that’s that.

End of story.

Or is it? Thornton Wilder, in his book The Bridge of San Luis Rey, examined this idea of memories, life, happiness, and love. His summation of the novel is brilliant (SPOILER ALERT!):

But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Perhaps he is on to something. Maybe the memories we leave behind are enough. No matter what we do or do not leave behind us, our actions still count for something.

I really hope Wilder is correct.


4 responses to “What’s It All About?

  1. Seex Dyer says:

    Hi. Well you’ve hit on a difficult subject there. (But doesn’t life just keep putting things like that in our way?)
    I’d just like to share an opposite story. I’m afraid when my Dad passed away it seemed to me his life story the service was just the opposite to the one you mention.

    So I agree with Wilder and yourself – in the end, the love you put into others and the good you do with your day is all that’s actually worth leaving behind!

    It should make us treat each day differently. I hope so.

    Thanks for your blog.

    • First off, I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. I can’t imagine losing a parent.

      This is a difficult subject…life is full of them! It often seems as if society is pushing us away from investing in people, even though people *should* be one of the most important part of our lives. From other blogs I’ve been reading this weekend though, people are starting to realise this more and more, and investing in people instead of merely careers and money.

      …and I agree. I hope we take the time more often to live our lives differently. :)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!!! -MissW

  2. klarusu says:

    Hello there MsEm.

    I’m going to throw my two-pennies into the pot here. I think that people focus too much on what you leave behind, Ultimately, once you’re gone, the physical inventory of your life has little importance and no-one can predict what your neuronal legacy will be amongst those that have known you. What’s far more important is how you live your life in the present. It matters precious little whether you are religious or not. For all of us, little acts of kindness can have unpredictable and immesurable effects. It’s not about what kind of large gestures you can make in this life, size isn’t always everything. A small gesture of kindness to someone whose day is sad could start a cascade and somewhere down the line, great things can result. Who’s to say that the great gesture is the enormous act of sacrifice rather than the moment of kindness that started it. I think we should measure ourselves not by our legacy, over which we have no contro,l but by the moments we can control in our day-to-day lives.

    I am not religious and I take no comfort in the ritual surrounding death that the church presides over, although I am happy that some people do find a measure of comfort there in difficult times. I am, however, a creature of science. I take comfort in the fact that, in a way, people never completely die away. I have my father’s genes & my grandfather’s genes – I talk to much, I relish my gift for language, my writing skill & my fascination with the natural world. My daughter sometimes looks like her grandfather, even though she never met him. The continuum that spirals through the helices that build us entwines with the threads from the new generation, mutates into something unique but linked.

    The irony is that material things are immaterial. Pride is not attached to an object but the person themselves. I’m a squirrel, I keep everything, but not everyone needs to. I would hazard a guess that whilst for your friend’s father, the objects were the focus of his memories of the events he took part in, possibly for his family the man himself was the focus of their memories and pride, rather than the events a picture symbolised. Maybe they didn’t need them to remember the father they loved.

    I’m going to retreat and let my two-pennies rattle around in the pot now ;-)

    • Much more than two pennies’ worth here, and all of it muchly appreciated. :)

      You are correct, of course. Different people respond to death in different ways. While I need some form of physical reminder to help keep memories of those gone on crammed in my crowded mind, others do not. And like you say, there’s always some form of genetic representation of ourselves somewhere in the world.

      So, then, would it be safe to say that lesson to learn here is to live a life invested in others? I think so. All those commendations, all those awards mean nothing if he never stopped and took the time to invest in his family, his friends, the people with which he came in contact.

      We do not know what legacies we will leave behind…intentionally or unintentionally. But, we can do our best to try and live in a manner that impacts people for the better.

      Thank you for your thoughts, my dear. It’s always wonderful to see a comment from you. :) -Em

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