As we age into society, there are certain human truths we not only begin to learn, but then start to live — and it is in moments like those, like the one we’re sharing now in the rare “long form” live read on the internet — that I want to urge you to abandon the trophies and the tricks and the cunning surrounding our lives and to instead leave behind something that matters, footfalls suspended in amber, creating your own fossil record.
As we creep closer to sliding into our graves, we cannot help but look back over the arc of our lives and be tempted to wonder what is and what might have been. There’s no regret in the ongoing evaluation of who we are and what we intended to become.
I always found it odd, and a little off-putting, growing up as a child in the Midwest, and having the older folks around me scan the obituaries page in the daily newspaper.
Looking for deaths — sometimes with both hope and regret — was maudlin and a little frightening to me, but the obit page was the final period on the end of a single image forged in sweat and hope against an impending darkness. You were okay to be forgotten as long as the descriptive bits of you found final ink on a page.
Now that I live in the New York City area, and moved by both time and tide, I cannot help but be driven by my Midwestern DNA to scan the obituaries page of the New York Times. It’s a wildly different experience reading the East Coast death roll call because these were the famous, and the infamous, and we are expected to remember them longer than the same sort of dead friends reported from the farmlands and valleys of the regular clarion — but we won’t.
Our lives are performed in dramatic arcs that intersect and reflect and repulse and reflex: Are we divinely predestined or merely reflexive? The other day, I was thinking back on when I was a young child and, feeling alone and frustrated, I would climb a cherry tree in our backyard to get away from all the noise and hubbub of earthly living. From my vantage point 20 feet in the air, I could smell the wind and get a sense of a horizon that was far and above my current station.
Today is the third day in a row I’m writing about the death of the great author and teacher, Dr. Howard Stein, because I just can’t get his life out of my mind. Every time we’d meet or speak on the phone, I would take copious notes because I didn’t want to forget anything he told me.
Every conversation was ripe and ready for memorialization in a blog post or in a future thinking endeavor. Howard Stein was always teaching, and when you had his attention, you were the most important person in the world to him. He was staunchly rational and fearless almost up to the end; and I say “almost” because during the last few months of his life, he confessed to me that, at night, he would get scared.
There are many things that children say when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up. Children will say that they want to be an astronaut, or that they want to be the president of the United States. (The fact that an over two hundred year life of the United States have yielded but 44 presidents does not seem to hinder teachers in grade school from telling large groups of children that they could be president if they wanted to be president.) No child, as far as I am aware, has ever said that they hope one day to live their life in prison.
Twitter has done a lot of things in the last six years since it launched from giving everyone the ability to tweet about their daily tinkle routines to social revolution, but the one thing that it seems to prove is that people do not seem to ever learn that if you put something out on Twitter it is not that different from yelling it from a rooftop.
For one, a good number of people have been outright fired or otherwise lost their jobs because of posts they have made on Twitter. I would never imagine anybody other than someone who didn’t care about their employment status going onto a rooftop to announce to the world that they were going to get a job that they hated but would get a big paycheck for it.