Today, as Hubby and I snacked over chips and salsa during lunch, we discussed a particularly annoying relative. Ruminating over her laziness and propensity to live through the accomplishments of others, I made the accurate if harsh comment, “100 years from now, it will be as if she never existed.” Further reflection has me appreciating the power of the comment even more, for it’s quite clear that, 100 years from now, it will be as if I never existed. And do not feel smug just yet, for you, too, are most likely in that camp.
When we think of the legacy we leave, we most often think of children. This seems right and obvious. But, in so many ways, it reduces our legacy to biology only. I cannot tell you one significant fact about any of my relatives that lived 100 years ago. At one time or another, I have most certainly heard the names of my great-grandparents, but I know nothing about them. I am the beneficiary of their DNA. It is certainly my gain, but, to me, it seems little solace to those long gone. Given the choice between being actually known in 100 years or simply having my DNA carry on in 100 years, I think I’d prefer the former to the latter. Besides, if we truly cared that much about our genes carrying forward, one might expect significantly busier egg and sperm donation centers.
The problem is we can’t all be famous. I’m not talking reality TV famous. I mean George Washington, Napoleon, Aristotle famous. For the remaining 99.99% of the rest of us, we must face the fact that, in a century’s time, it will be as if we never existed. Our DNA may carry on, but that will be the extent of our legacy. No one will remember our appearance, our voice, our personality, our triumphs, our challenges. At best, perhaps some future cyber-archeologist (with fedora and whip) discovers our blog and studies the insights of the early 21st century mind. But, absent that, we are destined to be forgotten.
Time marches on. People live, people die. Places, events, and times are forgotten. Entropy is relentless. The future is not for us. We will not enjoy it, we will not be a part of it.
But that is as it should be, for our time is now.
Understanding that our time is fleeting should be a call to action to make our legacy now. To understand that the worth of a life is not held by the minds of those in the distant future, but, rather, in the hearts of those with us today.
My lunchtime criticism was not only unduly harsh but also ineffectively broad. A century from now most of us will be forgotten, and that’s okay because that’s not what counts. Ultimately, whatever happens after we’re gone is irrelevant. Whether our name is never whispered again or statues are erected in our honor in every corner of the globe, we won’t be around to notice. We can notice, however, our life as it is today, and, if it’s not worth remembering, well, we can do something about that.