A Rabbi once said that a person dies two deaths: The first is when you die; the second is when people stop remembering you.
On occasion, I like to play a terrible game. There are usually three scenarios and it goes something like this:
Scenario #1 - I am suddenly dead. My practical engineer husband, in an effort to appear “upbeat” for the children, never mentions me again. Why upset the kids, himself and his new trophy wife? It would be best not to burden the bunch with such unpleasantries.
Scenario #2 - I am suddenly dead. My husband Mike, in his paralyzing grief, tells no one I’ve died. Not even my friends on Facebook. No one attends my funeral.
Scenario #3 - I am suddenly dead. Mike alerts Facebook. Everyone and their mother attends the service. My ex-boyfriend reveals I was way more into him than he was into me. A girl named Wendy volunteers the story about how I peed on her in kindergarten. Someone farts loudly at the service. No one keeps to the two-minute rule.
My husband does not enjoy this game for a variety of reasons. (Well, duh. Add it to the list.)
This year I have a new “I’m suddenly dead” worry: what exactly is it that will be my “legacy” when I’m gone? How will my life be remembered?
My legacy with my kids will of course be inked with memories of my everyday perfection. They will fondly recall stories that equate me with Mother Teresa and most definitely name one of their children’s hamsters after me. But beyond my brainwashed offspring …?
This may seem very self-important, self-centered, grandiose … and maybe there is a tiny bit of ego in there, but truly, all ego aside (for the most part), I think we should all be thinking about this. How are we impacting the world? Are we making a difference? In other words, are we doing things that when we croak, our absence beyond the obligatory friends and family (assuming they like us) is felt and we are missed because of what we have authentically contributed to the greater good of humanity?
I believe we should all be missed in our communities and by communities outside of our own. Wherever we are and whoever we are, I believe we should be bringing something, doing something, adding something. I believe we owe it to the world to make it a little bit better since we have been given the incredible opportunity of living in it.
Maybe that’s where the answer lies. Instead of worrying about the long-term impact we will have made when we are gone – who will dedicate a plaque in our memory, who will make us a martyr as time erases the more human truths – maybe we need to be worrying more about who and what we are impacting while we are still here.
Because with all due respect to the Rabbi, I think it’s three deaths in a lifetime: 1) You die. 2) No one remembers you. And 3) While alive, you settle for complacency. Tikkun olam my friends! And you can put that on my headstone.