I have a secret that embarrasses me a little. I love celebrity gossip. I love “finding out” secrets – even when I know the gossip probably isn’t true. I love stories about stars behaving badly. I love looking at pictures of pretty people doing exotic things. I love “look how crappy they look in real life – just like you” photo essays.
The first website I check out every morning after grabbing a coffee is neither Google news nor social media. Instead, I click the link that will take me to the gossip site TMZ. It’s a nice distraction that pairs swimmingly with my morning piece of chocolate. Mindless entertainment before I depress myself with the news of the day.
I especially like, “Where are they now?” stories.
I love finding out what the actors I liked from the shows I loved are doing with their lives. I like hearing about the successes and I’m gratified when I encounter the failures: it’s petty but misery loves company after all; it’s nice to see that famous people’s lives aren’t perfect either and seemingly having everything isn’t sufficient unto itself for happiness.
The “where are they now” question also came up in a morning reading recently. The question is not as specific as the post on TMZ; it’s more global; it relates to the Stoic Memento Mori admonishment: remember death.
Death comes for us all, a fact of life that both annoys and comforts.
There have been humans on this planet for quite some time now and we are legion. We live and we die and life goes on. It’s how the whole “life” thing works.
Who were they though, the multitudes that came before? What did they accomplish? Where are they now?
The truth is, we don’t know. The billions that have lived and died are gone, forgotten by all and we know nothing about them. Their names, their likes and dislikes, their troubles, successes, joys, and sorrows are not even a memory. No one knows what they did, or how they lived their lives, or if they had a beanie baby collection. We don’t think about them at all.
Eventually, we will all be forgotten. Even the rich, the famous, and the powerful. Even the infamous. Time marches on and memories of individuals existences are obliterated. Their acts and accomplishments, regardless of the glory or scorn they deserve, are reduced to footnotes recalled by few if any.
What then, is the point of anything? Why strive to live well if it will be as if we never were in a very short space of time? What’s the point if there’s no point; if there is no immortality of memory to comfort ourselves with when we stare into time’s abyss?
But if nothing matters, everything matters. If you can’t live to be remembered, live for now. Being a good person in the now is the point. Live the best life you can put together today at this moment. Be the best person you can be. That’s what matters.
Barring accident, I have at most another fifty years on the planet. It’s what I hope for anyway, although I find living here hard. But getting a letter from the English monarch and the Canadian Prime Minister in recognition of hitting a century would be cool, albeit in a pointless kind of way. Ultimately meaningless paper passed down for a generation or two until it ends up as kindling or recycling and is also forgotten in the mists of time.
Eventually, however, even if I do become a centurion, I’ll die and turn to dust. I’ll be dust quite promptly since I’ve opted for cremation post-passing. My children will follow me into the ether, and then my grandchildren, and after that, no one alive will remember I ever was, save for perhaps distant relatives who develop an interest in putting together a family tree. And yet, I have hopes that I’ll carry on and in more than a “these people carry my genes” fashion.
Not for blog posts that survive for eternity and are resurrected and revered. Not for anything concrete that I’ve done. But because of the way I choose to live my life and how that has informed the people I interact with. Perhaps knowing me will inform a choice they make and my influence will pass on in that manner as well. Not an explicit memory of my existence but proof in behaviours and ideals that carry on.
A grandiose ambition, I suppose, but I’ve heard worse. Inspiring people to be good people is not the worst aspiration in the world.
That is the reward. That is the benefit of trying to be a good person. That is why everything matters. Not because your face will pop up on whatever technology is being used for some twenty-second century “Where are they now” Buzzfeed feature but because the values you held and modelled endure.
We all die and we will all be forgotten. But what you do in the now, in the everyday, matters. Your character and how it impacts the people you meet is your immortality. And that’s far better than being in a retrospective of side by side pictures showing how poorly ageing is treating you.
How do you hope to be remembered? What do you hope people remember you for?