Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Spiritual Nature of Memory

I've been coming to grips. When I die, a few people will mourn for a while, but I'll be forgotten quickly. There are maybe a few people in every century who actually leave a mark on history, and I am not going to be one of them. In my lifetime Obama will be remembered, and Bob Dylan. Maybe one or two others. But there are even some forgettable American presidents. Isn't that a kick in the teeth. If you can make it to the highest office and still find a way to get lost in the shuffle, there's no way a lanky redhead from Chicago's suburbs will be remembered.

Check out some of the people who actually are remembered. Einstein, Mark Twain, Jung, Kierkegaard and Darwin all had one thing in common; they were all on the cusp of something (respective to their fields). They may have been influenced a little bit by someone before them, but they brought things to the table that were completely new, revolutionary even. And once they got on that cusp, they elaborated extensively on it. Once they found something new, they dedicated their entire lives to it. These are the people who make history. These are the ones that we continue to study, semester after semester. Book after book is written about them, about how "important" their work was to the world (and still is).

And it's true, there have been a few individuals who led extraordinary lives. Because of them, our world exists as it is today. They will remain in the collective consciousness, and will never escape the history books.

Should I want to be a part of that group though? Is it really important to be remembered after I die? I'll be dead anyway, so what if people read about me 1000 years later? What's the point?

Cornel West interviewed Lupe Fiasco at Calvin College a few weeks ago. In response to a question about leaving a legacy, Lupe said, "if I have ever led anyone astray, I would rather not be remembered at all." Surely, a very humble remark. He is more concerned with with social responsibility than his own individuality. But I don't care if I've led anyone astray. I want to be remembered. Compare me to Hitler all you want, but I don't want to be forgotten.

Besides, I don't believe in leading people astray. I believe in free will, and if a weaker brother does wrong as a result of my influence, that's his problem. I say what I say, and you say what you say. But what I say will be remembered, because I'll say it first.

My grandma died a few years ago, but I remember her. I remember her because she was important, her life was meaningful. If she were not meaningful, not important, I would forget her.

So here is our gauge. How important was your life? How much meaning did you bring into the lives of others? That is determined in how you will be remembered. If memories of you fade quickly, you were probably leading a mediocre life. But if your name is repeated for hundreds of years after your death, you were probably on to something bigger than your own self.

I want to find that thing that is bigger than my self. When I do, I will devote myself to it. Lately, the only thing I can see is pain, suffering and death. I don't really want to devote my life to that, it would be quite contradictory. I think there's more. I hope there is anyway.

Einstein revolutionized physics. Mark Twain is known as the father of American literature. Carl Jung worked to establish modern psychiatry. Kierkegaard laid the groundwork for existential philosophy, setting the stage for Sartre and Nietzsche. And we can certainly see what Darwin has done for the science world. They set things off. They got balls rolling. With courage and patience, these regular men, no better than you or me, devoted their lives to a new idea. Not an old idea, mind you. New ideas.

And I know that I'll never be a part of their club. Because I don't know what the difference between a good and bad idea is. And if I simply latch onto whatever new idea comes my way, I very well could end up another Hitler. Truth be told, I don't really want to be grouped alongside Hitler in the history books. I empathize with Lupe Fiasco on this one.

I'll search for the new idea. And if I find it, the first place you'll hear about it will be on this blog. And by 2099, I'll be TIME's Person of the Century. Granted my arrogance (or insecurity) not destroy me.

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