Did you ever ask yourself: When you are dead and gone what will they say about you? Surely at a funeral, or reading someone’s obituary? Maybe you played that group ice-breaker game in which you’re supposed to tell everyone what you want the epitaph on your gravestone to be. Well, it seems to me that living in the shadow of that question is no way to live.
When I am dead and gone I will be dead and gone. Whatever they say then will soon enough go unsaid – and forgotten. There comes a time when the needle has no more wax to travel and though the record keeps spinning, the music is all gone. Just gone, as if it never was. That is the nature of things. It is estimated that in the fifty-thousand years homo sapiens have walked the earth, one-hundred and eight billion of us have died. Those still remembered by anyone is a truly tiny fraction.
The better question is: What do I want to say about my own life when the time comes? When I am on my deathbed, or stuck sharing a room under the snarling florescent light of a nursing home, or bedridden with a nurse’s aide cleaning my privates while family can’t quite look away, if I still have enough mind left to ask, what do I want to be able to say about my life?
Regrets are okay, they just mean I was brave enough to risk failure and gritty enough to acknowledge it. Shame can’t be helped, that poison pill was sewn into the lining of my stomach early on. Grief, well that just means I loved. Hmmm, maybe I hope to feel, whether the words break air or not, I used what was given me with vigor and courage, ingeniously and even wisely, right up to the very end. I suppose that would be the equivalent of wanting the onlookers at my death, to look at the wagon tracks behind me and see whatever I was able to accomplish, and whoever I was able to touch and love, and say about me, “there weren’t nothin’ left in the tank, he used everything he had for a purpose greater than himself.”
But then again, from my current perch, I am not so sure that would be the ticket. I can imagine, as time rolls on in the next few years, hoping someone might say instead, “that boy met his calling alright, and God must’ve grinned a ‘Boy Howdy’ at him up there at those pearly gates.” Nah, that doesn’t sound right either. Maybe I just want those left whose toes are still wiggling in the sand where my final waves leave the shore, to know I loved them. Would that be enough?
On the other hand, imagine the tragedy of being so clear about what you want your life to stand for that you could say so in no uncertain terms, and it never changed along the way? I guess I’ll be content to keep pondering and resisting the urge to sum it all up. And anyway, I’m going to hope it is a moot point for years to come.