(Information from this essay comes from the pages of the following websites: Wikipedia.org, mnn.com, forbes.com. organdonor.gov., donatelifeny.org., and the following books “Yes I Can!” by Kenneth J. Brown, “Water Into Wine” by Tom Harpur, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl)
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We look at our lives and we realize that we have done nothing to make us proud. We are ashamed.......And we are not alone.
We worry that we will be just a blimp on the span of life. It’s not death that we fear. It is that our lives have not mattered. And we will not be remembered for anything.
It is highly unlikely that we will be given the gifts like James Stewart’s suicidal character George Bailey received in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” where he was shown by his guardian angel how he had made a difference in peoples’ lives and, now wanted to live.
Or bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge who is escorted by supernatural visits on Christmas Eve by Jacob Marley and the “Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come”, sees his bleak future in the Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and pledges to change his ways.
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We do not know how our lives will be remembered after we die.
Many celebrities do not reach fame and success until after they have gone. Many struggle in obscurity while alive but don’t reach fame until after they are long gone.
Just a few who live on after their deaths:
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), while alive, was famous for being an organist. But he didn’t reach fame as a composer until after his death. Few of his works were published during his lifetime.
But it wasn’t until 1829 when German composer Felix Mendelssohn reintroduced Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” did Bach receive praise for his musical compositions.
Though the publication of “Walden” brought author, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) modest success, his political writings had little impact during his lifetime. He earned his living by working in a pencil factory, lecturing occasionally and by publishing essays in newspapers and journals. He made very little money.
His writings have influenced the likes of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ernest Hemmingway, Frank Lloyd Wright to name a few.
After the age of 35, Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick” (1819 – 1891) critical and financial success from writing had eluded him. By 1876, all his books were out of print. He earned only $10,000 from writing. He, then, took on a job working as a customs inspector on the New York docks for 19 years.
In the 1920’s, there was renewed interest with a biography and an interest in “Moby Dick.”
During her lifetime, poet Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) had a mere 10 poems published. She was not recognized during her lifetime.
Upon her death, her sister discovered 40 hand bound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems. The first volume was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955.
During his life time, Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) sold one painting. But his works are now hugely successful after his death, selling for millions.
Steig Larsson (1954 – 2004) was known as an outspoken journalist and editor in his native Sweden. But his famous books, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest” were not published until after his death.
And let’s not forget the host of celebrities who make money after their deaths. Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts cartoon creator), Elizabeth Taylor, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, Albert Einstein just to name a few.
And it’s been suggested that some celebrities make more money after they have died.
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I believe that death is not the end. I believe that there is something that lives on after we die.
I often think about people who lived before me. Relatives, friends. I think about all the historical figures and what they have left us. Their legacy, their words of wisdom. I think about people who have left this world a better place than they found it.
And there are beliefs that people adhere to. There are some who believe in “karma” - that we will be rewarded or punished the way in which we lived on earth or the concept of reincarnation. That we must go through many lives to reach spiritual maturity. There is an intangible that life doesn’t end after we die.
I believe what we sow, we will reap. If not this life, hopefully, the next.
I do not know if there is a Heaven. I certainly question if there is a hell. There are some who believe hell is right here on earth when people confront unbearable sufferings and heartaches that never seem to end.
But to suggest we either end up in one place or the other after we die is too absolute, too extreme.
Should a person who led a mediocre life – though not bad was not all good – end up in the same place as a Mother Theresa? Or that spot for those that were truly evil?
I’d like to believe there are many levels and we keep coming back until we reach spirituality maturity. As it says in John 14:2 (King James version) “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
Whether Heaven is our final destination is open for discussion.
None of this, of course, can be proven. Everything is based on faith. That is something I or anybody can not proof. (Interesting, but the atheists and non believers can NOT proof there is no afterlife.)
For the most part, life is a mystery. And I think we all want it that way.
Would we want to know that we could predict the future of our lives? What dreams and goals will come true? Even when we are going to die? (According to one survey, 96% said “no” to the last question)
Once we see a magic trick on how it’s done, we are disappointed. If we knew the mysteries of life, life would be too predictable, too boring, even disappointing.
We need life to be challenging with its struggles. Whether we want to admit it or not, we need life to be that mystery.
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So how do we guarantee that we can live on forever? That we will be remembered?
There are no 100% fool proof ways that we will live on forever or be remembered. But there are ways that we can, at least, try.
First, we can start by becoming an organ donor. One organ donor can save up to 8 lives. Each year, thousands of people die while waiting for a transplant because no suitable donor could be found for them.
We wouldn’t walk away from someone who is hurting that we could help. But we do the same when we refuse to become an organ donor.
We can even donate parts of our organs when we are still alive.
By donating our organs, we do live on through others. Besides, it has been said that our bodies really don’t belong to us. We are stewards of our bodies.
Secondly, if we have extra money, we can set it up so that a charity will receive money every year. Or simply donate it outright to a worthy charity.
Thirdly, how about a collection to be passed on? Some people collected recipes, first edition books.
I have several scrapbooks of pieces of wisdom which I have accumulated from all sources over the years. I refer to them on a regular basis. I’m hoping to pass them on to family members.
I also have my sketch comedy routines. I tried setting up a troupe for the psychiatric/physically challenged communities a few years ago. I didn’t have much luck. Maybe someone else will have better luck. And, hopefully, my essays I write will be around after I have gone.
Finally, we can live on, be remembered by the way we bear our sufferings.
Frustrated, we may not make anything out of our lives. We may go on leading a life of meagre existence. But it’s important we stand for something. One way is how we bear our sufferings and heartaches. To some, this is an achievement.
In “Man’s Search for Meaning, author Dr. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, spoke about fellow holocaust victims who knew they were going to face death. Frankl wrote about them calling them “martyrs,” whose behavior in camp, who’s suffering and death bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that “they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”
Dostoevsky said:”there is only one thing that I dread - not to be worthy of my sufferings.