Frederick Leighton (1883)
WHO’LL remember you in 70 years time?
Who’ll know your name? What you achieved, who you loved, where you lived?
Will anyone remember even one of the myriad details, events or landmarks that made up your life?
How long will your legacy – such as it will be – last?
“The most that most of us can hope to live on for, after our deaths, is 70 or 80 years. Can you remember your grandparents names? Where they came from or lived?
“What about your great grandparents. What do you know of them?”
These were questions put to me in a recent conversation I had with an associate, P.
He posed them as part of his argument for the need to live in the present, as a method to highlight the uselessness – the sheer cosmic unimportance – of the things most of us spend inordinate amounts of time considering, worrying about or planning.
Focusing on our short, transient existence can be liberating for some, depressing for others; for more it’s a mix of both.
If we accept P’s argument it swiftly leads us to make a demand of ourselves: I must live as best and true and I can, for myself and others.
Perhaps this living legacy is the only one that matters, the only immortality we can expect. And if it outlives us, more luck.
Memorial to Ed Ricketts, Cannery Row, California.
Pic: I, Amadscientist
This occurred in recent days as I read excerpts from ‘About Ed Ricketts’, an essay written in memory of the marine biologist of the same name by his friend John Steinbeck.
The work is an obituary, a love letter to friendship, to life, to hard work and hard relaxation, to enlightenment, to wine, to music and to all of us, to people.
Ricketts, the inspiration for ‘Doc’ in the novel Cannery Row, had been killed in a car crash in 1948.
“He went a long way and burned a deep scar,” Steinbeck wrote, justifying his decision to write truly about his friend, a man who “had the faults of his virtues”.
How to capture one man’s life, his legacy? “There can be no formula. The simplest and best way will just be to remember,” Steinbeck argues.*
As legacies go being remembered like this, in the honest words of a friend, is as good as most of us can expect.
And so Ed Ricketts, almost 70 years gone himself at this stage, had as good a shot at immortality as any. But in time he too will surely slip from public consciousness.
As for us, perhaps the best we should hope for is that we ‘go a long way’, do our best, and that people will remember.
For how long? Does it matter?
*John Steinbeck, ’From ‘About Ed Ricketts’’, Of Men And Their Making: The Selected Non-Fiction of John Steinbeck, ed. Susan Shillinglaw and Jackson J. Benson (Penguin, 2002), p 183