When I was in High School, as a senior, I took a class called “Existential Questions” from a bit of an eccentric priest, Father Peter. We read and wrote quite a lot – more than I ever did in any single college class. Something we read had to do with the theme “You’re not really dead as long as someone remembers you”. I can’t remember if it was from a play or a short story but it affected me.
It affected me more that I thought, apparently.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, one of my first thoughts were how were my children going to know my mom, their grandmother, who passed away years before they were born? How were they going to know all their great-aunts and great-uncles? When my memory is gone, will the memories of those others be forgotten as well?
An odd thought, but it was one I had. Then, of course, genealogy became a bit of an obsessive hobby.
The experience of finding all this genealogy has been, for me, to keep these people in memory. To keep their memory alive or, in a sense, to keep them alive. Also, as an IT guy, I tend to believe that if you put something on the internet ( And back it up three times), it tends to stay there and be findable. As long as people can find it and read it, then these memories go on and on.
Any number of cousins have copied large chunks of my research into their own versions of the family tree. At first I was a bit pissed, I mean it took months and months (sometimes years) to find some of this stuff but then I realized that spreading this information out is exactly what I want to happen. Copy please!
Unfortunately, when researching sometimes things can get a little melancholy. Memories of people long passed come unbidden and as nice as it is to remember someone, sometimes that memory becomes bittersweet. The worst though is when you realize you may have forgotten someone. I mean, that’s the whole point – remembering.
Every person you interact with changes you and people you have some sort of relationship with changes you all the more. Not all of these people are relatives. Not everyone will fit neatly into an individuals family tree.
In what seems, to me, to be almost another lifetime I had a great friend whose memory escaped me for a moment.
And while I still can’t remember what book or play started this Existential Question, this quote will do:
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” Terry Pratchett