I’m sitting at the table where they used to sit, looking at the large variety of big, beautiful trees outside the window they used to look through. They’ve died, but I’m here now looking at the trees they used to look at, the trees they planted. All the things they left behind evoke in me a sadness, not only because they’re no longer here to enjoy those things, but because I feel almost as if I should refrain from enjoying them, perhaps in honor of their memory.
Certainly, I don’t expect people to last longer than their belongings, longer than trees, longer than it’s time for them to last. So what is it that’s so difficult to accept in walking around a houseful of coffee cups, pots, pans, tables and chairs that they used for over fifty years, and now all those happily- and well-used things are old and still. They’ve seen their best days, all the dishes and hutches and lamps and beds. Now they’re deserted, all the laughter and activities and conversations around them that gave them a life of their own are gone.
It’s as if I feel all the things people left behind in death are sacred, should be protected, but how? Why? It’s not practical that these things become sacred and protected. So it’s nothing I act on, yet I nevertheless feel a tug toward a need to honor the dead on this insignificant level, as if the preservation of their things, the only tangibleness we now have of them, is somehow freezing time for them, as if life shouldn’t go on, as if something should stop to mark the momentous event of a life ending.
But the dead are no longer here to care, so why would we care but for a few valuables and keepsakes? And in those keepsakes we can keep as many memories of them as alive as we can. So it is that all the things they’ve left behind are dispersed to family, and the rest, the majority, are given or sold to strangers. So it is that pieces of people’s lives get thrown away or scattered, as pieces of themselves, all the pieces, all the things that they chose carefully to buy and loved having and using.
That I must keep reminding myself people’s lives are not their things and throwing away their things is not throwing away their lives, I think is tied to the bigger issue of the significance of a life. We have loved and highly regarded people, yet as soon as they die, memories of them begin to fade. Our lives are flashes in the pan.
All lives are significant to people close to them, but when you zoom out and look at those same lives, they seem so insignificant. They were born, they went to school, they got married, worked, raised kids, retired, died. Others were born to do a little more, maybe in government or entertainment and the like, and therefore they may be remembered more widely. But the swiftness, the callousness of coming and going, and the pit in the stomach, the melancholy, the sense of futility it causes, is a haunting thing.
At the same time, at the very core of ourselves is a thing that tells us we are significant. And for most of us, when the voice of that thing, the feeling of it, is up against what we see with our eyes, there’s a major collision. We don’t appear significant on the grand scale of things, yet something tells us we are. This sends most of us on a mission to find out what’s real. Are we or are we not significant?
Because we all want to be significant, many of us search for religions that tell us we are. Some can stop at the being told part and be perfectly happy all the way to the grave. Others don’t feel quite right about stopping just there and continue drilling down further. Some find a different definition of significance that suits them a little better, albeit still a bit tight around the chest, but it’s good enough. Others end up full circle at the thing at the core of themselves and find that it links to a greater thing, the thing they were looking for all along.
We all have to find our way in this regard and that’s what life becomes…any one life becomes the answer to the big question, “Are we significant?
What new insights regarding life did the death of someone close to you give you?
Have you heard the message within yourself that says you are significant? If so, where do you feel that it comes from?
What answer to the question, “Are we significant?” does your life as a whole give you to date?