When we die, or pass on, go to heaven, or are reincarnated – whatever your beliefs tell you about what happens when this life ends – what will be remembered?
Quickly forgotten are the material things. Where you lived, the kind of home, even the furniture inside it are the least important mementos of a life. Though a great deal of thought went into choosing them because they were very important to the person in question, rarely do those left behind remember what a cool couch someone had, or that fine view, or the magnificent garden.
Most often our reminiscences are captured in photos, frozen snapshots of a moment in time that trigger an explosion of memories when we view them. The time, the place, the weather that day, why you were there and how you felt at the time can come back with electric intensity the instant we look at a photo of a departed loved one. Many kept photos are of landmark events: weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and of course these are an essential part of the story. But the best photos usually come unscripted, random moments that somehow evoke the essence and character of a person. Photos that remind us why we loved them.
More enigmatic are the objects that filled their life, those possessions they deemed worthy enough to place around their day-to-day lives. It may be a grand painting, a favourite utensil or a tiny curio picked up in a market somewhere, sometime. Each has a story: when it was made, who gave it to them, where it was picked up, what it reminded them of. Sadly the full story of the bits and pieces that surrounded a life remains untold when it ends, and we are left to fill in the gaps as best we can when trying to determine which items are the things that should be kept.
But what matters most is not physical at all; it can’t be stored in a box or displayed on a shelf. It’s the accumulated actions of one’s life that defines a person and they dictate how strongly we remember – and miss – them. What they achieved, how they celebrated, how they loved, how they grieved, how good a mate they were. And most important of all: what they did for others.
Those we remember best knew instinctively that giving to others is the greatest role, and they did it more than most. Perhaps they taught, or volunteered in their spare time, or gave generously to charity. They may have been that person who knew how to give comfort in tragedy, or bring life to the party. None but saints are truly selfless, however the best of us are remembered because they thought of others as well as themselves. And not just thought about it, but through their actions made other lives better. Great people make us think how we can be better people too. That is worth remembering.