When I was very young, 12 or so, I thought you could judge people only by the descendants they left behind.
In a way, that has a certain validity. I mean, if you don’t have children, your genetics aren’t going to show up in future humanity.
It took me years to realize that people like Shakespeare and Heinlein had left countless non-genetic descendants. For Shakespeare, arguably, most of western civ. For Heinlein, only the future will tell, but I’m sort of hoping he’ll be the father of many new worlds.
Which brings us to measuring humans and your life.
Many humans and a lot of politicians are convinced he who is remembered the longest wins.
There is something to be said for that, of course. To quote the late Sir Pterry, a man is not dead as long as his name is spoken. And we’ll be sending Pterry’s name home in the sf/f virtual clacks for a long time to come.
I always liked when I attended worldcon, the huge display during the awards with the names of all who had gone during the year since the last worldcon. It was useful, in terms of some of us realizing con-friends had died unexpectedly, but most of all it was “sending their name home.” Most of us (self being exception, among a few others) leave no descendants, most (self included) are somewhat of a puzzle to birth family, most have family by choice, yes, but a lot of it scattered all over the world. It is good to have our name spoken one last time, sent on its way with good wishes by those who knew them best/shared their passions.
Last month one of you, occasional blog readers, book readers, Odds and Huns, contacted me. The occasion of that was OF COURSE a demand for more books. I’m not going to name him, because I barely knew him in terms of time, and many of the readers here actually knew him and are mourning him, with more right than I have.
He could be any of you. He pinged me on FB to demand more books, moar! Normally I answer politely and excuse myself (no, it’s not just you. I’m short on time.) BUT I had become newly-fried on writing and was drinking a beer and hanging out with my posse online, anyway. So, this gentleman and I talked books, starting with mine, moving to Kate’s (whose fan he also was) moved on to our dismal politics.
He felt like… family. Like someone I’d known forever. (One is tempted to believe the Mormon doctrine of pre-incarnation ensoulment sometimes, because there are people we’ve just met but have known forever. However perhaps it suffices RES’s and my son’s theory that the soul is eternal and multidimmensional. So sometimes you’ve known people before and after and forever (not a way to explain something out of time) our brief carnal sojourn on Earth.)
Turned out he was dying. We had hopes. There were experimental treatments. But he died, suddenly, far too quickly.
In the time I knew him I got used to sending fight scenes and gun stuffery to him for proofing/suggestions. In the time I knew him he taught me a lot.
This last week, I’ve been watching the hole he left behind in the lives of those who had contact with him.
And I think that’s the measure. Look, if you have descendants or not might not be wholly under your control. Sometimes you don’t meet anyone you want to have them with in time. Sometimes health forbids it. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
And as for being remembered, there are limits. Unless you’re the new Julius Caesar, you might be remembered as much as centuries after your death, but it doesn’t last. Human memory is frangible, ephemeral. You might be “remembered” but that might not have ANYTHING to do with who you were actually or what you actually did.
But you can live each day as if it matters. you can try to be as good as you can to those around you, generous with your time, gentle with the weak, fair with the strong.
You’ll fail sometimes, of course, but this is a game of averages.
Live so that when you go what you leave behind is not “Thank G-d, he’s gone” but a million little things where people think “I wish I could tell him/her this joke” and “I wish I knew what he/she thinks of this” and “man I miss him/her.”
Unraveling your myriad kindnesses and help from their lives will give your friends, relatives, acquaintances and passing strangers a momentary pain. But it is a good pain. It means you didn’t live or die in vain.