Driving today with my elder son in the back seat, a Sarah McLachlan song came on the radio. I smiled and sang along.
I will remember you/Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by/Weep not for the memories.
There’s a surface meaning to the song, as with any song, and at first I was only thinking surface thoughts. Swiftly transported to a simpler time in my life – high school and early college days – when love was messy and dramatic and fascinating and painful and I wanted every part of it. I also thought about my brother, (who is probably Sarah McLachlan’s number one fan), because he used to burn me CDs and make me notes on what to listen for. He’s an audiophile, I can’t hear the things he does, but I still loved getting CDs from him, and I listened to them dutifully and repeatedly.
As the song went on I started thinking about the lyrics having a deeper and more profound context. I imagined a conversation with my Grandaddy Curtis. He’s been on my mind the past few days. I see him standing in front of me, smiling. He was always smiling.
“I will remember you”, I say. “Will you remember me?” He nods at me silently. It’s like a verbal handshake – a pact – we make. “Weep not for the memories,” I say to myself. I miss him, but I am not sad. I have been loved more earnestly and well than some people will ever dream, and I can only be grateful for it. Sarah kept singing:
You gave me everything you had, you gave me light.
I leave the imaginary scene and focus my attention on the road ahead. The sky looks a shade or two grayer than it did this morning. I’ve heard it said that for as long as you are remembered and loved by someone you never die, not really. Your love becomes your legacy. So in my imagination, Grandaddy and I made a deal to keep the other alive, through love and conversation.
You know that age old question – “If a tree falls in the woods…”? Well, let me put it to you another way. If a person exists – if a human life is lived – and there is no one to bear witness – is it truly lived? What proof is there to point to that person, what certainty can we have about them? I suppose the answer depends on how much you think existence has to do with things like community, connection, love, family, and legacy.
Isn’t that what every person wants? To be remembered? To have mattered?
Existential crises are a part of the Human Condition. We all, whether we realize it or not, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, yearn to matter. I believe with all my heart that this is why we are driven to create. Most of us (maybe all of us), usually from a young age, feel a compulsion to make. Writers, painters, singers, dancers, even people who create in different ways, like businessmen and inventors, all respond to the familiar call to make something of their lives – and by extension, of themselves, of their time here.
To be honest I think this is (at least in part) why some of us have children. We want to leave behind something of significance, and we want someone to bear witness to our lives. We want some assurance that the stories we grew up with – the recipes, the traditions, the places and people we love, even the dimples passed down on our father’s side – don’t cease to exist when we are laid to rest in the damp, dark earth. We hope that the generation we raise will be better than us, we hope they aspire to greater heights, we pray they will work as hard as we have to make some kind of mark on the world, to give their contribution to the collective.
We want it all to mean something.
It’s futile. It’s absurd. It’s romantic and brave.
And isn’t it a lot like writing a manifesto in the sand? We toil and sweat and bleed and give of ourselves, mining the depths of our hearts to produce something raw and true and worthy. The tides of time will likely wash it all away eventually. We know. In the back of our minds, we have always known. Yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.
Stranger still, there is inherent value in the markings left on the beach, even if they aren’t seen or acknowledged on a global scale and even if they only last a fraction of a second. Ironically, the value isn’t as much in the words as it is in heart and motivation of the person desperately scrawling them; not as much in the thing created as in the creating.
Sounds like one big, terrific, cosmic joke.
Perhaps the punchline is this: Love is what lasts. Love is what transcends. Only love. Real love is eternal. It exists here and it exists in the after, and it is the only thing that does. So really, all this creating is nonsense, and all our sleepless nights and working lunches and grand projects are useless, except for the loving. Who we love, how well we love them, whether and how we express it, where we allow it to take us, how much of that love we pour into others and into the universe is what bleeds over into the cosmos and echoes in the night sky after we are gone.
I’ve heard it said that for as long as you are remembered and loved by someone you never die, not really. Your love becomes your legacy.
I will remember you. Will you remember me?