You know what it’s like. A friend dies. You may be shocked. You may cry. You offer condolences, you have pleasant reminiscences with mutual friends. You tell stories featuring flattering memories of the dead friend. You say things like “we’ll miss her” and “he was a great guy”.
And then you move on.
This can seem cold. At first it feels like it’s a betrayal to laugh and be silly in light of the recent mortal event. But those moments pass and your senses are soon filled with the needs and joys of the living. The dead are just … gone. Their Cup of Life ran dry. It sucks, but there you go.
We are a fragile and frightened species. So we tend to fight the idea that when we die we’re just gone and are destined for obscurity. We’re dead certain: I’ll leave a legacy! People will hang onto their memories of me after I’m gone! They will! For sure!
Belief in the immortal soul isn’t just a con offered up by religious charlatans. There’s a demand. Cosmology responds to market forces: we all lust for the promise of never-ending life and eternal legacy. Maybe we’ll last forever as we’re repeatedly reincarnated and eventually transition to god-status. Maybe by a cosmic transplant of our memories to an ethereal life atop a fluffy cloud somewhere. A guy with a big book might make permanent record of our deeds and misdeeds. Creatures from another planet may liberate our tortured souls.
Back here on Earth, my mortal remains might be maintained under a slab of granite with my name chiseled into it. Maybe they’ll be parked in a nice little ornamental urn, or perhaps the family shrine or crypt. My weepy surviving loved ones might purchase a brick bearing my name for a local park, or maybe a bench with a brass In Memoriam plaque. Maybe a cash infusion to the Legacy Fund at one of the educational institutions I frequented? Future generations surely will read my name, right? And they’ll make an effort to learn who I was? And they’ll ask about me. For sure, they’ll ask about me.
For parents, producing offspring is a festival of potential legacy. Way down the genetic trail, a child will see a picture of me and know that he got his oversize eyebrows from me, his great-grandpa, just as I got them from my dad, and my dad’s dad. And that goofy kid will ask about me, I’m sure. What did great-grandpa think? What did he do? What was his life like?
But mere procreation is an amateur’s game. The real grasp at immortality is made by artists, composers, writers, architects, playwrights, choreographers. Want a legacy? Write or design something profound. How about a snappy YouTube video, Facebook or Instagram post? That’ll last forever. Right?
Sweet dreams of you, however real and justified, will be fleeting. You’re gonna be forgotten. When the people who knew you and loved you have themselves gone to rot, so too will their memories. Maybe it’ll take a generation, maybe two or three. But your erasure looms.
So, celebrate your imminent obscurity! Live your life delighted by today’s joys. Be proud that you’ve been a kind person, a smart or funny person, a loving parent, a friend, a sibling, a partner. You’ve one chance to drink from the Cup of Life, so slurp it up, baby! Don’t waste any time pretending it’ll last forever.