I met a man once who said he wanted to get rich enough to sustain a fund that would enable his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to be able to go to Disney World once a year. He felt that they would enjoy themselves and remember him fondly. I wasn’t very optimistic. I thought a generation or so down, people would not remember him, but remember that there was some relative who had created a hopefully fun experience for them. They would perhaps, enjoy the thought of him at best.
Do we remember John Wayne or Steve Jobs? We remember what they left for us. We enjoy their achievements. But who were they as individuals? Most of us never knew them, and so to miss them seems peculiar to say. Is it enough to be remembered for what we did? Or does it matter who we did it for?
Earlier this summer my father in law passed away. Russell was not quite 93. He fortunately had not been sick for very long and I believe was ready when his time came. His two youngest children, one of which is my husband, were with him when he died. It was evident by his last words that he knew they were with him and I believe he took great comfort in that knowing.
My in laws were not special, but they were as extraordinary as I understand the word to be. They were ordinary, somewhat simply lived people, but they did everything to their fullest capacity. They were kind. At my mother in law’s memorial a couple of years ago, so many people shared stories of how Russ and Marge had helped them over the years. They fixed things, baked things, drove people where they needed to go, lent them a dollar or two and even housed people who needed housing on occasion. Upon Russ’s death, grandkids posted stories on Facebook about their memories. These included fishing, hunting for mushrooms, sewing, cooking, making S’mores and watering the pecan trees at the farm.
The elder Young’s will not be remembered by millions or thousands. They might not be remembered beyond another generation. I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring. My children never knew her and were young enough that they barely remember my own mother. But remembering and knowing are two different things.
My children know their great grandmother because so many of her qualities still reside within me. My love for cooking undoubtedly was passed on by her to me. I can still remember how she taught me to bake bread when I was only seven or eight years old. And I share my love of cooking and baking with my family, not just as something I do, but something that is at my core.
My husband has so many fine qualities that are linked to his father. I see many of the same traits in our oldest son as well. Our youngest son sometimes has his grandfather’s laugh. Likewise, my husband’s five sisters all possess some of the same gifts as did my mother in law. And I see many of these traits passed on to their daughters as well. They are crafty and creative just as she was, but each in their own way.
I suppose what I’m really trying to convey here is that our lives are less about our own stories and more about seeing them as chapters in a larger book. Once the chapter closes, the book continues to build upon what was just conveyed. The value in our lives is perhaps more contingent upon the simplicity of the subtleties we leave behind in the people we love rather than the notable achievement others who do not know us will attach to our name. If that is accurate, then living well, being extraordinary and nurturing the growth of those around us, are our best hopes for immortality.