I still remember the first time I ran across the philosophical question:
“Would you rather be forgotten, or hatefully remembered?”
It stopped me in my tracks. I thought about it, hard.
If I’m being totally honest, my brain was saying “I don’t want to be forgotten!”
Of course not. No one does. But then you have to ask yourself… what would you potentially be remembered hatefully (or just negatively) for? We all have our skeletons. We’ve all told lies, done selfish things, and hurt people, even if not intentionally in all cases.
Years later, when I think about this same question, I think much differently about it. It’s not even a question. I’d rather be forgotten. Because I know I will be anyway — almost certainly — and lots of great people have.
You don’t have to invent something or cure a disease or be a beloved performer/artist to be a great person. Some great people are great because they give all of themselves — to their job, to their family and friends, to their passions. They’re great because they are selfless, patient, and supportive. They simply try not to hurt, lie, or otherwise negatively impact the other people they have to interact with on a daily basis. Many of these people will still be forgotten, even by the progeny of their offspring. Many of us will never even know about their goodness. But they were still good, that can’t be denied.
I was at the hospital recently for an unexpected injury, and the nurse who helped me was absolutely wonderful. I meant to send her a thank you card afterwards but I let both of us down in that things got very busy again once I was healed and I never sent the card. But I have not forgotten her. I’m sorry, Nurse Barbara. You rocked.
I also have to confess, I know I don’t tell my family and friends often enough how much I appreciate them. I email with my mom regularly, yet I feel out of touch with her, and with a lot of my friends. I’m really focused on my life and the things I’m trying to accomplish, and that is not without consequences. They all seem to forgive me for it, because they’re good people. But I still feel guilty, because I know *I* could do better.
We all want to be something bigger than ourselves, we all want to matter. We all want to love and create. And many of us do, just maybe not to the extent that would make us a household name, or even just beloved by our own local community. We have to be careful not to let that desire to matter lead into selfish territory. I think this is the difference between knowing what you are good at/good for, and having an ego, needing to be recognized for it.
This is something I’ve thought about a fair bit over the last few years, as I’ve really started to value community more and more. I watch documentaries or YouTube clips about people who go live off the grid or start a “hippie commune,” and those people, I would say, are good. They walk away from a life of High Definition Entertainment, the Internet and many other societal conveniences, but they also walk away from a lot of negative impacts, social or otherwise. And sometimes I really envy them.
There are so darn many great causes that I support, and want to be more supportive of, but I’m only one person, and when everything seems important, it’s impossible to choose. The best solution I can think of is to share any resources I come across, with people who can potentially make good use of them. I try to absorb information and help disseminate it.
I get told periodically, maybe once every six months or so, by a friend, acquaintance, or family member, that something I’ve said or done has impressed, inspired or motivated them. It surprises me because usually the thing that inspired them wasn’t what I thought it would be. It’s kind of like when you tell someone “you can do it!”, it doesn’t always work to motivate, but if you actually get up and do it yourself (or say “let’s do it together!”), just seeing someone else step up and do it kind of inspires them to try and follow suit.
Never underestimate the power of just taking the first step. That’s really what we’re all most scared of, I think.
So many people seem to never even get off the starting line because the first obstacle seems overwhelming. You kind of just have to trick yourself into jumping into the pool without acclimatizing to the temperature first. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many things you aren’t sure you can handle but you totally can. As the saying goes, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
I’m admittedly a bit eccentric in all the things I try to do, all the projects I invest myself into. I know I am spread too thin and the quality of my output will suffer sometimes, but I guess while I can, I’m trying to do as many things as I can that are positive, that might be remembered, even if not specifically for having been done by me.
But honestly, I will most likely still be forgotten. And I’m OK with that. I believe I’m having some positive effect (however slight) on those around me, and that’s better than nothing.
It’s certainly better than the alternative.