People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too.
~Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Maybe it’s the fact that Ash Wednesday was a couple days ago, but this quote from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations stood out to me today. We are all mortal; there is no doubt about that. We will all die someday. Again, no surprise there.
Those that love us will remember us. And even the stories they pass on to others will be remembered for a time. But for the overwhelming majority of us. After just a few generations, we will be forgotten. Our memories swept away with the tides of time. I think I’m okay with that. Are you?
Certainly, there are those whose lives continue to stand even centuries later. After all, it’s ironic that this quote comes from a Roman Emperor nearly 2,000 years ago, and will most likely be known for many more years to come. We know of some historical figures from the early days of civilization — the ancient kings of Egypt and Babylon, of the Sumerians and Persians. The figures we read about in Scripture — Abraham, Moses, Elijah. These are historical figures from thousands of years ago, whose names and stories continue to be passed down.
Coco is a great movie that really hits on this idea. It centers around Dia de los Muertos, and this idea that our ancestors live on in the Land of the Dead, but only as long as we remember them. Midway through the movie, one character, Chicharron, is fading. The last person on earth who remembers him is about to forget him, and when that happens, he fades away. He experiences what they call the “final death”. It’s both a haunting and a beautiful concept.
So, what are we to do? How are we supposed to live with this knowledge?
I think some people try to make themselves infamous. They live on in the history books as examples and warnings of the dangers of pride, evil and excess. After all, we still talk about Nero, and it is pretty well unanimous that he was an awful, insane and evil person. But that’s not the kind of life we want to be remember for, is it? Sure, he’s still remembered, but not fondly by any stretch of the imagination.
I think our best option, really, is to just live the best kind of life that we can with the time that we have. We don’t have to be remembered for all eternity. Our names don’t have to go down in the history books. There’s no need to chase after posthumous fame. Those who know us and remember us are enough.