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.