‘What would you most like to be remembered for?” I asked a friend. It was a
spur-of-the-moment question that should have evoked a fairly lighthearted answer,
but I had overlooked my friend’s pessimistic tendencies and so landed myself,
willy nilly, in a debate about the meaning of life.
My friend’s view,
emphatically expressed, was that most people are forgotten soon after they’re
gone; that everyday existence with its pressing concerns goes on and we bury the
dead in more senses than just the physical.
Immediate family members, he
granted, carry a memory of a departed loved one. And famous individuals like
Shakespeare or Einstein or da Vinci are remembered for their enduring
“But someone like me, who has contributed nothing great and has
no children?” he asked rhetorically. “I give it three months at most. After
that, no one will remember I even existed.”
The new replaces the old and
the old are swept away, he declared with a shrug, quoting Woody Allen, who told
an interviewer with his trademark mournful manner: “Every 100 years somebody
presses a button and a big toilet flushes and everybody on the earth changes...
everybody on the planet’s gone... and a new set comes in.”
this periodic “washing clean” of the world’s population, and the fact that
everything will eventually end, renders any individual life pretty meaningless;
and with this my friend is tempted to concur. So, he challenged, what difference
does it make whether you’re remembered or not?
FINDING THIS general worldview
highly unappealing – even without the flushing toilet metaphor – I went onto
YouTube to hear the rest of the Allen interview.
“You can’t actually live
your life like that,” the atheistic Allen conceded, “because then you would just
sit there. Why get up in the morning or do anything” faced with this
“meaningless end of everything”? It is the artist’s tough job, he explained, to
persuade people that life is nevertheless worth living, despite the “terrible
truth” confronting them.
Good luck with that, I reflected, while
recognizing Allen’s prolific creativity, even genius.
Happily, I then
thought to scroll down to the comments following the Allen
While some shared his depressing take on the ephemeral nature
of life, others raised my spirits.
“Biology makes your individual life
important,” countered one poster. “You are a member of the species Homo Sapiens.
Live and love and be a contributing member, it is a great and wonderful ride.
Another poster asserted that the fact of mortality – that we
as individuals are unlikely to survive much beyond nine decades, at best – does
not itself make life meaningless, and added what was also my view: that
“[Allen’s] strikes me as a very self-absorbed, egotistical
“Why must anything be eternal to matter?” a third poster
continued this line of argument. “A full emotional and spiritual (not
[necessarily] religious) experience is its own reward. There are ‘right actions’
that simply feel good.... There are ecstatic, transcendent experiences that seem
revelatory and create an expanded appreciation for one’s
With or without a belief in God, this kind of
reasoning was far more to my taste.
Anyhow, I reassured my friend, “I
would remember you for at least four months,” in return for which I received a
A PROMPT for my initial question – what would you most like
to be remembered for? – may have been my continuing sense of connection with
Sara Schacter, who died recently at 97 after a particularly full and fulfilling
life (see “Sara Schacter: From London to Jerusalem,” The Jerusalem Post
, May 3,
Her loss reinforced the words that ended my 2000 obituary for the
’s Alex Berlyne: “With some people, it doesn’t matter how old they are; you
always feel they’ve gone too soon.”
I knew Sara from the Sam Orbaum
Jerusalem Scrabble Club, which she had, together with Sam, founded back in 1983.
In her late nineties she was still a player to be reckoned with, and over the
past few years I visited her at home every other Monday for (elegantly served
English) tea and chat in between at least three Scrabble games. It was an honor
to be one of her protégées.
I’m sorry I never thought of asking Sara what
she would most like to be remembered for, but she might perhaps have mentioned
the great joy she derived from words. Her knowledge of English literature and
memory for poetry were more than impressive.
Even during a competitive
game, she would opt for a modest score on a turn if she could put down a “lovely
word.” And she would be genuinely delighted by a clever word played by her
opponent. I remember, and miss, her for that.
I remember Sara for her
elegance in dress and lifestyle – an elegance that extended into the way she
dealt with increasing health challenges, making light of them and, if they came
up in conversation, diminishing them with a self-deprecating humor.
remember her for her down-to-earth approach to living, and for saying that she
never stayed angry about anything for more than half an hour, “because life is
I remember her for her keen intelligence, and for making her
friends feel valued and appreciated.
I was one of those friends, and her
passing has left a void.
TO THE question “What would you like to be
remembered for?” Yahoo Answers had some touching, even inspiring, responses:
be happy enough to be remembered by anyone.
I just want to know that
someone out there cared for me. That’s all.
I want to be remembered for
being a good person and just always being positive.
I’d like to be
remembered for my weird sense of humor and the ability to make people feel
If I had a headstone, I would like it to read: Here lies a
I would like to be remembered as someone who was ready and
willing to help when needed, who was honest to myself and others, who respected
those who were respectful; a strong woman who did not judge others and believed
I would like to be remembered as a great dad and
husband. The rest is really not that important in the grand scheme of
I want to be remembered as an honorable, morally good and honest
man. I also don’t wanna be swallowed up by time and forgotten... maybe if I get
rich I’ll build a pyramid. I hear those keep your name alive.
I really do
not want to be remembered for my own personal traits or accomplishments, I think
that would be so selfish. I don’t care about physical or academic
accomplishments, money or beauty. As long as I have helped as many people as
possible, I think then my existence would not be in vain.
FOR MYSELF, I
would like to be remembered as someone who wrote one or two things that made
people reflect upon the intricate art of living; as someone who tried to
understand a bit about human nature and use that understanding to benefit her
own life and others’. I’d also like to be remembered as someone who occasionally
made people laugh, because that surely is one of the greatest gifts.
would you like to be remembered?