Roger Ebert blogged recently about a streak of loses among his friends and relatives that got him thinking about how and why we remember those who have died. In his musings, he touched on something that rang true for me:
Early one morning, unable to sleep, I roamed my memories of them. Of an endless series of dinners, and brunches, and poker games, and jokes, and gossip. On and on, year after year. I remember them. They exist in my mind–in countless minds. But in a century the human race will have forgotten them, and me as well. Nobody will be able to say how we sounded when we spoke. If they tell our old jokes, they won’t know whose they were. That is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear.
The idea that what constitutes are immortality is as mortal as we are makes a lot of sense. It explains in a small way our fear of dying and our fear of letting go of those who have died. When we can no longer bring them to life in our mind’s eye as clearly as our home movies on the flat screen, they are truly gone. because even the photos and audio-visual facsimiles will eventually belong to those who never knew them in the flesh and to whom they are nothing more than curiosities from someone else’s past.
One of the comments on the Ebert’s post had this to add:
Many Native American peoples had two words to describe the dead. One word for those who had died- but still had someone living who remembered them, and another word for those who have died and no living person was left who remembered them.
Implication being that there is no immortality on this plane anyway.
- Roger Ebert on Death (patheos.com)