Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Live Forever

(This is a rerun of a post I wrote in September of 2007. It's hard to believe it's been two years. - FG)

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have bad news for you. Barring some very significant medical breakthrough in the next hundred years or so, someday you will cease to breathe. Your heart will stop beating. Your brain will cease to be electrically active. You will die. You may take heart however from the fact that, like the proverbial pebble in the pond, the ripples of your life may continue virtually forever. You may gain some degree of immortality.

There are, of course, relatively easy ways to be remembered forever. Do something infamous. Adolph Hitler and Osama Bin Laden are not likely to ever be forgotten by history. You can be exceptionally good at what you do. Babe Ruth and Thomas Edison will not be forgotten. You can even gain immortality by being majorly incompetent. George W. Bush comes to mind. And of course, folks who have left behind major works of literature, audio, or video recordings live on in a way. I have a friend who, among other recordings, played on the seminal recording of a Christmas song you hear annually. I've discussed with him what it must be like to have that semi-anonymous immortality.

But what of the rest of us, those of us who will never achieve fame? Can we live on long after our mortal bodies have rotted away? Well, depending upon your own religious persuasion you may say, "Of course," and argue that we'll live on in heaven or maybe come back to earth as a cow, but that's not the kind of immortality I'm talking about. I'm talking about the immortality that comes from being remembered, and from having the actions of your life ripple on throughout history. The good news is that this type of immortality is within all of our grasps. Here then are a few short steps to becoming immortal.

  1. Love someone.
    Find your soulmate. Love another human being with all of your heart and soul. Commit to them and entwine your life with theirs in such a way that after you are gone others will look upon the two of you as the prototype of the perfect relationship. An unfortunate side effect of this is that when you die you will leave this person utterly heartbroken. This is unavoidable.
  2. Be a true friend to as many people as possible.
    My Dad used to say he had many acquaintances, but only a very few friends, and I'll have to say I'm probably the same way, but if you truly want to be immortal be a friend to many, and I mean a true friend. Be there. Really listen. Give of yourself. Be the kind of friend you'd like to have.
  3. Care.
    Care about others. Care about the environment. Care about animals. Be the most caring person many people know. Be a grown up flower child. Work for peace, and justice, and care about leaving the world better than you found it.
  4. Teach.
    "Teach your children well," the song says, but it's bigger than that. Pass on what you know to a child, whether it be your own offspring, your niece or nephew, or the child of a friend. Know that when you are just living your life, little children are watching you, and adjusting their world view accordingly. Professional teachers have the biggest opportunity. A third grade teacher may directly influence a thousand children during her career. Those kids will go on to affect others, who will affect others, ad infinitum. Volunteer to help kids. Promote education. You'll be achieving easy immortality.
If you're lucky, you know someone who will never die. Their life lives on in yours, and in the lives of everyone who knew them. The ripples in their pond are innumerable. Your job then, maybe your sacred duty, is to take that spark of their life, and pass it on.

The gray clouds parted briefly, as if to give her a better view of the solemn gathering. We stood on the bridge, the midday tide change behind us, watching the ashes drift swiftly to sea, pursued by a wake of flowers. Salt water flowed unbidden, caught on my lip and was gone. Must have been the wind. Goodbye Sharon. You are with us always. Immortal.

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