It is comforting to think that after we die, we will be remembered by others still living. But if we aren’t, what does that mean?
While human life spans have increased — in fact, more than doubled — in the last century or two, life is still exceedingly short. No one has managed to live past a hundred and fifty years old.
The way to immortality, then, is through our legacy. The children we raise. The work that we did that survives us. The stories and memories that continue to live on.
This is a common message through media. Emotional movies tug at our heartstrings, with characters saying that they feel the presence of a loved one. It is a common theme, understandably, at memorial services.
Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘What gives a person value?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What makes you you?’
There are humans who have such an impact that they survive in our collective memory. It is usually through a discovery or artistic creation or a momentous feat of some kind. We know the name and achievements of someone who lived a thousand years ago. It would be nice if we were to have such an impact that we would be remembered or celebrated for hundreds or even thousands of years.
But would it really? It really makes no difference to you, after you die. Your death is not made better or happier if your name goes down in history.
Isn’t it more important to live your life in a fulfilling way right now? The future is uncertain at best, and won’t, barring unforeseen increases in human lifespans, include you?
Alternately, if you are not remembered, or only remembered for a short span of time, did your life, your existence, really mean anything at all?
Does it matter how long we are remembered?
Related questions: What gives a person value? Why are people afraid of death? What would you say to people in the future? How do you want to be remembered? Should we be concerned with legacy?
1 thought on “Does It Matter How Long We Are Remembered?”
Yes. I think it does. It matters how long and how we are remembered.
As noted in the context for the question, we are dead. Does it matter to the person who has passed? Obviously not. But whether we were on this earth for a short time or decades, I’d like to think we made a mark worth remembering by others.
But that mattering, I feel, is poorly reflected in how we memorialize people now: poor templates for obituaries, keepsakes held onto —sometimes begrudgingly — by one family member, and isolated in the hearts of those closest to the one who has passed who mourn the loss during various anniversaries.
I recently lost my Uncle Dave. I will remember him as someone who loved to make people laugh, especially himself. It was fun to be with him because he either made you laugh or there was an appropriate comedic silence after one of his jokes or observations fell flat. I remember when he was a teen and I was a young child. He and my Uncle Dan lip-synced the song “Monster Mash” to me so I would cheer up. (It worked.) I also remember him joking that you only needed three spices to make any spicy taste — salt, pepper, and lemon pepper! Obviously, Dave mattered to me in more consequential ways. But my seemingly trivial recollections stick with me just as much as the important ones. Should these memories of Dave die when I do? I don’t think so. They help paint a fuller picture of how Dave worked to communicate and create joy.
So suspend your disbelief regarding the maintenance of a website or cost for a moment. My wish is that there would be an (as public as the person remembered would want) electronic collection of memories: a better obit, contributions of those who cared for the since-passed, and maybe even photos, audio recordings, and videos submitted to a central place that could be accessed, again, as publicly as the person who’s gone would desire.
Too often, we remember through mourning. While isolated and public mourning has its place, so does isolated and shared celebration. It pains me that there is a lack of the proper times, places, and channels to do this.
Does it matter how long we are remembered? Yes. But regrettably, our current ways of remembering die too quickly.
I think an ancestor of Uncle Dave would find joy in my recollections of the “Monster Mash” — they may even listen to the song — and the laughingly dearth of spices Dave joked was necessary to compliment any meal.