Yesterday evening we participated in yet another ZOOM meeting/call. This call was for a family and friend tribute to the mom of our son-in-law, who just passed at the tender age of 92. Terry Manning lived a nice long life, well, long relative to many other folks. She experienced personal and artistic success, as a model, because she was beautiful, and as an artist in her own right, creating in different art forms, but stone sculpting seemed a favorite. Terry also succeeded in life by becoming married to a man of good virtue and then remaining happily married for many decades. Terry’s marriage to Larry led to two children, Ken and Sandy, both of whom adored Terry.
Happily, Ken married our eldest daughter and they produced kids and those wondrous creatures called grandkids. And Terry thrived on loving her grandkids. And so when her good life came to an end, her family, kids, grandkids and close friends were asked to gather and provide tribute to Terry’s fine and loving life. We attended from afar, along with several dozen or so others, but that is the nice thing about this tech invention called ZOOM. People can now attend such events from afar, and still feel as though you really did attend.
And so another life, happily lived, came to an end. And I am drawn back in time to others who have left my life. Because life is a series of encounters with people, places and things. And we all get so many encounters, each of us different from one another, and then we leave. My first actual encounter with a “departure” was my Scottish grandma, Elizabeth Inglis. GM Inglis came to the US with her husband somewhere in the vicinity of 1890, maybe even the mid 1890’s. They both came from Edinburgh, Scotland, having decided that Scotland was not delivering to them a life quality they imagined they deserved. And so they decided to migrate to America. Because they, like many thousands of their immigrant colleagues, lacked any advanced education or training, GP Inglis had to rely on his basic carpentry skills to carve out a sort of economic life in Brooklyn. They were married and so they created some children, my Mother included. Because the early 20th century in America was filled with cataclysms, Wars, a pandemic flu, a stock market chaos, the Inglis’ never made it into the solidly middle class. But they lived, and their kids lived, and their kids married and produced their own kids. And so I was created, one of three to my Mother.
But finally their lack of economic success caught up with them and the couple simply ran out of money. Eventually, GP Inglis succumbed and then Grandma was forced to live out her life with us, my mum and siblings. And then, when she was about the age at which I now find myself, GM started failing physically. I found myself, at the age of 16, alone in our little house with her, when she began failing badly. I applied an oxygen mask to her, and then held her, but she simply stopped breathing. And I cried a bit, but then I had to move on. I called a doctor to come to us, and then I called others, starting with my mum. GM Inglis had left us.
And see, I too keep using this language of a trip. My GM left us—she “departed” for some other place. But all we know really, is that folks at some stage of their lives, simply cease being. They stop breathing, and then, apparently, their brain function ceases, and then they cease to exist as humans. Good Christians have invented this fairy tale that people who die, simply move upstairs to a place called heaven, and then they begin looking down upon us living folks. How long they continue looking down before becoming terminally bored one cannot say. I suppose when they really do become bored, they then turn their attention to God(dess?), or maybe to Shakespeare? Only they know of course.
But we are then faced with the job of getting on with this thing we call life. We are expected to continue living, almost as though nothing significant has occurred. And we really need to do exactly that, because otherwise, our own lives might begin to lose meaning. And since the whole idea of Life, apparently, is to keep on breathing and creating –something . . . anything—we need to recreate our lives without the someone who has left us, but with the memory of their wonder embedded within our subconscious.
Now, as we age, we move through this end-of-life process numerous times, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even siblings, and, of course, close friends. I have now reached an age at which I have outlived my parents, grandparents, all aunts and uncles, and both siblings. Many other friends have also “departed”. And each time some human “leaves” us, or ceases to exist, some part of us suffers, at least a little. And the closer is that human, the greater will be our suffering. But what survives is a set of memory clips of each of those someone’s. And those memory clips become part of us. Our brains are composed of integrated memory clips of all kinds of things, past lives included. So, the folks who have “left” us actually remain within us, in our brains, in the form of these memory clips. To that extent, we each “live on” in the brains of those who have known us.
So, what is LIFE after all? We arrive as a new creature, entirely untouched by humankind. And then we begin acquiring memories—we also call that “learning”. And we forge attachments, close memory links to others, some so close and so profound that we will enter into combat to preserve those links. The attachments seem to define us most profoundly, although many folks would suggest that our creations really are what defines us. But who is to know? We have people who love and are loved. And some of those people leave behind creations that will define who they were when they were alive. Some of the creations are other humans, and some of the creations are physical entities that will touch other humans by their presence—artistic creations, surely Shakespearean writings have touched many well after William left his stage. Some folks create and leave behind physical entities, like buildings, or institutions, like centers of learning, or other physical buildings that will house other humans for generations.
And then there are the negatives left behind. Many mighty rulers are still remembered because of the chaos they created and the lives they destroyed. History books are filled with their stories, and, I wonder whether those mighty rulers ever thought about the long-lived negative memories they were creating, and that they would always be remembered for chaos. I think of someone like Hitler, for example. He lived a high life for only a couple of decades, but his memory fragments that he left behind will always be ones of death and evil. But perhaps he would not have cared. Most of humanity would care, I would hope.
So, to live our lives perhaps we need to at least be aware that every day we are creating memory fragments within the brains of other humans with whom we come into contact. And those fragments are perhaps the only things we can fully control. We can choose to leave fragments that will make others smile, or make others frown. So maybe that is really all that life is about. Choose your pathways and your memory fragments carefully. Leaving smiles seems infinitely more desirable than anything else we can do.
And so Terry, you apparently lived the good life. I detect many smiles that you purposefully left along the way. So thanks to you Terry. That is called a life well lived.