I get contemplative while washing dishes. I’m not sure why I just always have. Today while washing the noodles off my little nephew’s bowl and spoon from lunch, I stood with my hands in the warm soapy and water thinking. My mind wondered as it often does to mortality and how all humans have a deep-seated desire to be remembered after we die.
Throughout history men and women have made desperate attempts to leave their mark. We’ve erected temples, pyramids, and written with paint on cave walls. Why? It has all been done for one simple reason, to say to someone in the future, “I was once here, please don’t forget me”.
Older Yet Familiar Faces
Today, my mind was considering this subject because I attended the forty-year anniversary of my graduation from high school last Saturday. Upon my arrival, the first thing that struck me was how old we all looked. I know, we are all only around 58, but the last time I saw most of the attendees was when we were sassy, dreamy-eyed 18-year-old kids.
It’s been a few days since then and I’ve been trying to process what I saw that night. I remember thinking to myself as I glanced around at the familiar faces how many of us would be dead before our next reunion.
I know that is a tad morbid, but I imagine I was not the only one thinking that on Saturday night. Some of us were on oxygen, a few could barely stand, and I was in a wheelchair. How many of the people about me that evening smiling and trying to look comfortable would be there when the next invitations were sent?
As I continued to wash the dishes I thought about the elderly people I took care of as a nurse’s assistant in a local nursing home. It was the 1980s and I was still young, and I loved those old men and women with all my heart. I formed relationships with them and learned so much by listening to their stories about life.
During the nine years, I worked in the home more than five-hundred residents died and I personally attended around two-hundred of those deaths. I always felt it was a special privilege to be allowed to be allowed to hold the hands of these ancient folks as they left this world.
Sometimes toward the end, I would promise them I wouldn’t forget them because I knew that they had no family or friends left alive to do so. It is almost four decades later and I haven’t.
Those elderly faces and their stories of life, love, loss, and death are etched indelibly in my mind. I remember them now but after I’m gone no one will, and I find that profoundly sad.
My only recourse to change that inevitability is to write a book about them and hope to high heaven it becomes one of the American classics that lasts far beyond me. I’m working on that.
Who Were They? What Did They Feel?
I’ve sat and looked at gravestones in the graveyard where my parents are buried and wondered about the people buried beneath them. On one tombstone it says, “Beloved Father died 1820” on another it says “Gone Too Soon” with the date of 1960 the year I was born.
Who were these people? Where did they live? Who did they love? What were their fears, dreams, and hopes?
I’m sure they too spent some time wondering who would remember them after they were gone.
A Sobering Answer to a Social Media Question
I haunt the website Quora.com, a social media site where people ask questions and other folks like me, try to give the best answers we can. One day a person asked me what they could do to become immortal.
I didn’t answer right away because I wanted to think out my answer first. Finally, I wrote down and shared the following thoughts with them.
If you want to be remembered than leave a reason for others to take notice of you such as the following:
Always remember that you are unique, special, the only you in the whole entire universe and there will never be another. Treat yourself with respect, love, and dignity. Accept your flaws and don’t hide from your mistakes but try to correct them when possible. When you can’t, use these errors as learning tools. Keep your head above your grief and your regrets over things you could have done differently. Instead, center on what you have done right and plan to do in the future to help others.
When you treat yourself thus, it is inevitable that you will treat others likewise and the world will remember that you did so. For humanity is gravely short of people who do these things.
I don’t know that these words were earth-shattering or moving, but I believe I touched someone, somewhere.
Changing Lives One at a Time
There is a quote from Mother Teresa that I love. Whether or not she was a Saint or a monster remains for history to tell, but her words ring true in my ears.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
What I believe she meant by this quote is this; the small ripples made by our lives can eventually become waves of enormous size and crash against the shore of some distant land, reshaping the landscape forever.
By changing one life we change the world.
Life is exciting, traumatic, dramatic, horrible and beautiful all at the same time. Many human beings have come before us and if we’re careful will follow us after we are gone.
Just as I remember the lives, loves and deaths of the elderly in the nursing home, so my memory will go on for at least a few years before I too fade into the mist of history. Is that so horrible?
Leave the World Better for the Future
I may not be immortal, and I will be forgotten someday but today I live and I breathe. Today I will love all I can and spread the word as loudly as I can that I am a power to reckon with.
We are all of us on the same one-way trip to the graveyard with our names on gravestones, so let’s enjoy life and each other to our last breath.
Let’s invest in the future together.
Now enjoy this poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley
He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of women, the respect of men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.
That’s what I want. My memory to be a benediction. Amen to that. Shirley