Will I Be Remembered? and Other Mortal Combats

Originally Published: October 14th, 2013; Updated: June 23rd, 2014

Will I be remembered?

Will I make my mark on the world before it’s my time to exit?

I’ve been asking myself these questions, and questions like it, a lot recently. Maybe it has something to do with my recent 27th birthday, the supposed “Saturn Return” birthday where anyone between the ages of 27-29 are supposedly beginning to question their own mortality and maturity and the “seasons” of life.ย I must admit, I’ve fallen victim to these ideas a lot lately.ย Mostly, I’ve been wondering if what I’m doing with my life will be remembered. Are we even supposed to be remembered after we’re gone?

Or is it inherent in the circle of life that, when we die, we become a part of the earth that created us and that our only part in this whole crazy system is that we make way for future generations to live their lives, just to make way for their successors?

Is that what life is all about?

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if what I’m doing, teaching, is going to be my only legacy. Will I leave behind a trail of students who will be inspired by what I’m doing and the choices I’m making in my classroom, who will then go out and pave their own paths, much like how I was inspired by my former teachers? Will I be satisfied with teaching the rest of my life? Will I be OK if I never publish my book? If I can’t make it as a writer, am I destined to become anything else? Will be satisfied with my life? Will my life have purpose?

Truth be told, I don’t know the answers to those questions, and that kind of scares me.

I’ve always been told that life, if anything, is uncertain and unpredictable. Even through all of its predictable encounters and the monotony of The Daily Routine, our futures are entirely unpredictable. Everything can change at a moment’s notice. Then again, everything can also remain exactly the same, and I could wake up when I’m 50 having accomplished absolutely nothing. And it’s that level of uncertainty that freaks me out.

I want so much for my life, and now that I’m edging closer and closer to my 30s, I’m less willing to wait because life doesn’t wait. One minute I was a closeted 15 year old boy with thoughts of suicide, the next I’m 27 and in a happy, committed relationship with the man of my dreams. Twelve years have gone by in the blink of an eye, and in twelve more years, I’ll be almost 40.

I don’t want to live the next 12 years the same way I’m living my late 20s.ย I want each moment to be memorable. Every second to be new. Because what if I die tomorrow?ย The only certainty in life is that life itself is uncertain. We’re alive until we’re not. Simple as that. Some of us will suffer from diseases, some of us will pass instantly. Some of us will experience tragic accidents.

Will we be remembered by how we died? Or will our lives be remembered by how we lived?

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Last week was Glee‘sย Cory Monteith/Finn Hudson tribute episode.The opening song was “Seasons of Love” from Rent, which beautifully encapsulates this idea of memorializing somebody who has left us.

The whole episode wasย very therapeutic. Most of the original cast came back and it focused on them and the myriad ways people grieve when they lose someone close to them. It was exquisitely done; one of the best hours of scripted television I’ve ever seen. I may or may not have ugly-cried throughout the entire episode.

However, what it left me — a hardcore, diehard Glee fan and somebody who was deeply and unexpectedly affected by Monteith’s death — with was feelings of grief for my own mortality and of those I hold closest to my heart, questions regarding how I will be remembered, and the longing to reach out and hug my closest friends and family and tell them how much I appreciate them because the bottom line is that we don’t always get second chances to tell people how important they are to us.

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I think I’ve finally realized why Monteith’s death has affected me so deeply: Because I’ve been watching Glee religiously since the beginning and I’ve been able to relate to these characters on personal levels, I’ve thought of them as extensions of my own friends; their archetypes have manifested in my own friends. To lose Monteith, and subsequently Finn Hudson, a character I often saw a lot of myself in, was jarring. It doesn’t matter how he died. What mattered was that he did die.

And if he, a fictional character, an actor who seemed to be on top of the world, could die so suddenly, then why can’t something similar happen to me? To my friends? To my family?

Questions of mortality are hard to ask, let alone answer. Death is such an intangible idea … until it’s not.

How do we measure someone’s life?

Is it in accomplishment? Love? The mark they’ve made on those who matter the most? What about those who will never know us? Should we care that they’ll never know us?

Are we truly living to our fullest potential each and every day?

Am I making my mark on the world?

Will I be remembered after I’m gone?

Will anybody care?

I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s not the worst thing in the world to ask these questions. It’s ok to wonder how how I’ll be remembered. It’s ok not to take things for granted, to appreciate each and every morning for what it is: another day, a beautiful day, a day filled with the unknown. In the end, all we have is the knowledge that we did everything we could do to be good people, to touch those around us, to immortalize ourselves in other’s minds by taking stock in what we do, whether it’s writing books or making music or working a 9-5 that keeps the world running the way it ought to.

It’s often thought that death is the opposite of life.

Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth. Life has no opposite.

There is no flip-side.

There is nothing but now … right now.

So live.

Truly live.

Live the life you always wanted because there is only one. We only get one chance. There is only right now.ย Be the mark you wish to make on the world.ย Be the man or woman you want people to remember.ย Do everything you can to accomplish everything you want to accomplish.

What happens next is unknown.

119 Comments

  1. โ€œIf you would not be forgotten, as soon as you’re dead and rotten, either do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading!โ€

    Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

  2. I think everyone asks themselves these questions every now and then. You should just know that you are very talented and what you’re doing, teaching AND blogging and sharing your talent here, will be remembered! Your writing will be your legacy!

    1. Wow thank you for the compliment! I try to use them to compliment what I write; the visual element is so present in writing, despite a lack of actual visuals, so I like to incorporate actual pictures for emphasis. Or an occasional laugh.

  3. This is a very inspiring post. I just turned 28 this year and have come to a very similar conclusion about how I want to live life moving forward. May you enjoy your adventure in this world to the fullest.

    1. I definitely think it’s our age. We have to start thinking about how we want to live from this moment on; I don’t know about you, but I spent too much timing not caring, and now I feel like I’m running out of time! Or maybe I’m just CRAY.

  4. Great questions, ones that I ask myself every day. The difference? I’m fifty-seven. Thirty years older than you. At first I chuckled to myself, “He’s just a kid.” But then I became a bit envious, because I wish I’d pondered them when I was your age. But in those days, I was oblivious to life, drinking my days away. Wasting away. Wasted.
    In December, I will celebrate sixteen years of sobriety and my life has never been better. I’ve never been happier. And now I’m searching for my purpose, a way to leave my mark.
    I believe teachers make a difference. They touch lives in ways that many of us never could. Keep teaching. Keep writing. Your life will unfold as it should.

    1. There is no time like the present to start living for a purpose. Everybody has their mark to make on the world, I truly 100% believe that…my question is whether or not I’ll know what dent I made before I go? I don’t want to be a painter whose work sells for millions after I’m dead. I want to be appreciated while I’m alive…if that makes sense. I guess I do get little gratifications every day. Take, for instance, today: one of my students approached me and asked if I thought she was a good writer because after taking my class, she might want to pursue a career in writing. I was extremely flattered, and looking back, that’s not the first student who has asked me similar questions, citing my teaching style and assignments and encouragement as inspiration for them. And it’s moment like those when i reflect on posts I write like this one and say, “Man, I feel like a kid!” haha

      It’s so great to hear your story and that you’ve never been happier! That’s wonderful!!

      Thanks for visiting and checking out my blog!

  5. I taught for over forty years and I am sixty seven. What legacy did I leave is a glimmer in the minds of a few who learned to question who learned to stand up and learned to grow. My kids are my extension, my grandchildren a further limb on the tree. I have done my job and the human race continued. When I am dead I wish to be eaten by smart worms who will further my destiny.

  6. You have all the big questions here. A very strong post. I agree with trying to do “everything we could do to be good people, to touch those around us” and similar thoughts.Life is a very day-to-day thing. I find goals like wanting to be remembered forever with a huge legacy less appealing and kind of irrelevant. Look around you. Living things are literally everywhere–not just the people but all the animals and plants. We all live and die as part of this mass of life. The irony is that just by being a part of this, we all impact others much more than we realize. Nearly everything you do and say is part of a web of living things. And there’s a really good piece by Samuel Scheffler on just the questions you’re asking, that I write about in my blog this week. Thanks again for a great read.

    1. (It’s crazy how we both wrote about similar themes on the same day!)

      The points you bring up are SO true, and I never quite thought of it in such an optimistic way, despite my whole “Circle of Life” spiel. Though, if that’s the case, if leaving a legacy and being remembered isn’t that relevant, why does it seem to be a concern? I mean, if you think about it from the larger-scale “Circle of Life” perspective, yes, we seem to have a lot more impact than we realize, but what about as individuals? What will we leave behind that will symbolize us an unique, creative, free-thinking individuals? What will be left that will let future generations know we were more than just the environment around us? OR is that the most important?

      I’m checking out your blog now!

  7. Love this post.

    I’m 56 and mortality is a much bigger concern than it was in my 20s, obviously. I write for a living and wonder what, if anything, I’ve written will survive me, other than a bunch of stories in publications’ archives. I have no kids or grandkids, so that’s out. It certainly raises the bar on how else one might possibly leave an imprint…my husband and I will probably leave our estates (what’s left of them!) to a scholarship fund for writers and/or photographers, so they can continue the work we do and that we value. Legacy is a pressing issue when you have no physical offspring.

    1. Issues of legacy really don’t discriminate when it comes to age. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds. As writers, we can only hope that what we’ve written will live on to inspire future generations. As history as shown, nothing survives quite like the written word.

      Thank you for checking out my blog! Appreciate it!

  8. The Heidelberg Catechism begins:

    Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

    A. That I am not my own,
    but belongโ€”
    body and soul,
    in life and in deathโ€”
    to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

    He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
    and has delivered me from the tyranny of the devil.
    He also watches over me in such a way
    that not a hair can fall from my head
    without the will of my Father in heaven;
    in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

    Because I belong to him,
    Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
    assures me of eternal life
    and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
    from now on to live for him.

    Actually, I do not ponder death much. I do worry, however, whether I have been a faithful servant.

    Stephen

    1. Amen Stephen. My grandfather is 83 years old and dying of cancer. I visited him a few days ago and he told me, “The doctors say I’m going to die of cancer, but I can honestly say that doesn’t frighten me. I’m ready to go home.”

      My grandfather wasn’t worried about his legacy when the doctor gave him the news. He simply held the hands of his family, thanked God for a wonderful life, and got ready to go home.

      1. I’m so sorry about your grandfather. Your grandfathers words are very powerful…this is what often puts our trivial matters into perspective.

        I wish your family lots of solace in this time. Hopefully you can rest easy knowing that he’s not afraid. Fear is a very powerful emotion, and not being afraid, especially of death, is a thought that could help you through this time.

        1. Thanks Steven. If he’s not afraid, I have no reason to be. Great article btw, keep on writing and reading my friend!

  9. Love this post and all the good insights and questions you raise. I think about this a lot too and have been for the past couple of years after losing an important family member who i think of every day, multiple times. Think of it this way: you’ve moved and affected perfect strangers on the internet (look at all those likes and comments!) so even though I don’t know you, I’m pretty sure I can say people will remember you. Great post – can’t wait to read more!

    1. WOW! Thank you SO MUCH for the compliment! I really really REALLY appreciate it — you just made my day!

      Also, I like the way you think! ๐Ÿ™‚

      It’s so true though…I guess I was able to write something worth noticing, and as a writer, that is the ultimate goal.

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog! If you’re interested, these are some of my favorite posts that I’ve written:

      https://stevensalvatoreshaw.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/an-open-can-of-white-paint/

      https://stevensalvatoreshaw.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/the-common-cure-for-uncommon-anxiety/

      https://stevensalvatoreshaw.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/27-things-i-wish-i-could-tell-17-year-old-steven/

      https://stevensalvatoreshaw.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/maybe/

      https://stevensalvatoreshaw.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/flashback-friday-steven-the-seven-girls/

  10. As I get closer to 50 and the kids are all grown and moved on to their own lives, death sets at my door as a regular visitor. I just want to make sure that I write words that will last.

  11. When you are in your twenties, you should be enjoying life and experimenting. Find what you love to do and do it. The saying is true that youth is wasted on the young. Take chances and don’t let anyone doubt you or hold you back .When I was young I didn’t take chances. Now that I’m in my fifties, I am finally publishing my first book. It has been my dream and I finally pursued. Who knows if anyone will buy it but I did it!

    1. Believe me, I spent the majority of twenties exploring and trying going down new avenues. I found what I love, but it’s a lot harder to attain than I ever realized it would be. I guess it’s great that I found my calling, writing and teaching writing at the college level, so young. Or at least, I think it’s my calling.

      CONGRATS on your first book getting pubbed! That’s great!!!!!! Wahooo!!!!

  12. I absolutely LOVED THIS!
    Death is such a ridiculous thing. Do we have to actually work our entire lives just for death to creep up on us???? When its done its done. We are no more. And that is the scary thought. Every hour we spend waiting for it to be over so we can get off work, or go out with friends or whatever, is an hour at the end of our lives I am sure we would like to have. I hate the thought of my life just ending one day. For my entire existence to lead up to one moment, and that after that moment I will never live. I am turning 26 soon and this has defiantly been on my mind. I think most importantly through self-evaluation I have realized that we all die but, we don’t all live. I have to live the absolute best life that I can, to stop whining about hours that I am still blessed to have, and do everything in my power for my positive outlook and life lessons to live on through my son.
    ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I’m TOTALLY, 100% with you! Death is the MOST ridiculous thing ever. The question you posed about having to work all of our lives just to die: that’s the real genesis of this post.

      The loss of those hours spent wishing we were somewhere else…when I think about that, it scares the hell out of me!

      I guess the best we can do is to be our best selves!!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  13. This was a great read! When I turned 29 I had a panic attack… Since then (now 31) I have had deep existential thoughts… Some just seemed to drive me crazy now they seem to just be fleeting. Mortality is a great motivator.

  14. live your life to its fullest. Embrace it, all of it. The beauty and the ugly. Life is double edged and the Divine experiences life through us. So live it. Every moment. And when you are older and perhaps having health issues you will have a world of memories. And then reinvent yourself again and live as fully as you are able to. You will be remembered by all the people whose lives you have touched. In harmony and peace, Barbara

    1. I love that idea of reinventing myself when I’m older. I think I’ve been so stuck in thinking that who I am now will be who I am when I’m older, but it’s not true.

      Thank you for visiting!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. Just live life to the fullest. It is so hard not to question life, but I find that the best moments are when we don’t question it, and we just live. Chances are, if you do more for others than you do for yourself, you will leave behind a great legacy. The entire world might not remember you. Someone will though ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I think that a lot of people (me included) can relate to freaking out every thirteen seconds because of absolutely nothing at all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Your friend Dinah was very accurate. I recently started deep breathing multiple times through-out the day in order to man-handle all of those anxiety driven thoughts in my head. You will be alright! Live life and enjoy it to the fullest. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Hey,
    I totally validate your thought process of asking all the hard questions. I am 26, myself but I often think of similar questions. Though its more of HOW do I feel more accomplished. How do I feel better about me as a person.

    You have it a little easier seeing that you got a degree and are doing something you are good at, which is inspiring! I was definitely inspired reading your post! You have a great way with words! I definitely think you will be remembered. Between an excellent blog and your work with children!

    I like your interactive pictures and pop culture references too!
    PROPS!
    -Ches

    1. THANK YOU so much for the kind words — too kind!! I’m glad I was able to inspire you, and I really appreciate what you said, more than you know!

      I think feeling better about ourselves as individuals is often forgotten about in our journey to better our material lives and class standing, but they really go hand-in-hand. Love yourself, love in every other facet of life will follow.

  17. I can answer one question for you “Does my life have purpose?” Yes. All life has purpose and sometimes that purpose is clouded to us. Sometimes we aid another in meaningful ways but may never know.

    I live my life by these words:

    Thich Nhat Hanh: โ€œThe most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.โ€

    I elaborated on what they mean to me in my blog post “To someone(s) special in my life” Basically if we spend our lives listening when others need us to we learn more about them. We demonstrate they are important to us. They carry you and the wisdom shared, the confidence kept and the comferting ear shared into life and perhaps teach the same to others.

    Each life you’ve touched will carry a piece of you into the future and perhaps share your gift of self to another.

    It’s hard as a person to think we make a difference I wrote about that in “What does one voice mean” on my blog. Does my voice mean anything in the crowded sea of people for whom silence is the language of choice. I’ve come to the conclusion that it does matter and even when we think we aren’t being heard someone, somewhere has heard you and you mattered to them.

    Keep up the good fight, stay strong and teach where you can. But never be some consumed by teaching that you stop learning. My father always said “In the places we least expect the greatest wisdom maybe shared. Kepp eye and mind open or wisodm may pass you by.”

    1. I love this: “Each life you’ve touched will carry a piece of you into the future and perhaps share your gift of self to another” — so beautiful!

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I will definitely never give up or stop fighting or stop teaching.

      We DO matter. Our voices are the ones that will last long after the crowd has been silenced.

  18. “Itโ€™s often thought that death is the opposite of life.

    Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth. Life has no opposite.

    There is no flip-side.

    There is nothing but now โ€ฆ right now. ”

    This really touched me and I enjoyed reading it so much. I’ve just entered the line of 20, yet I too share the same thought. I guess, the uncertainty of life teaches us not to fear of what will happen next, but to really live in the moment and appreciate things we have in our life.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. FIRST OFF: I LOVE your blog name: OddinaryGirl! Genius! And totes cute. I wish I could steal it!

      I’m honored that you were touched by my words. Thank you so much for stopping by! And don’t forget to live for the now!

  19. And one’s blog is part of one’s Muse. Hence, I know my blog is part of my legacy..at least for my family and close friends, if no one else is interested.

    Happy journeys in life and blogging.

    1. So true! My blog is a really great exercise in voice and of reaching people. I’m beginning to think that even if I just end up reaching one person, all of this is worth it.

      Happy journeys to you as well!

  20. Very good blog post. I wish I could make such a intimate correlation between the screenplay and your own personal thoughts. Like you did with Glee. I loved your thought process. I always love reading raw writing it makes it so much more real. I hope that makes sense? Great work!

    1. Wow…I loved that you called my writing “raw” — such a compliment!! (It totally makes sense…and makes me really happy!)

      Thank you so much for stopping by! Check out some of my other posts…I often blend pop culture in with my daily musings.

      1. Well I’m glad it made sense! ๐Ÿ™‚ I was worried! I most definitely will check out more of your posts.

        You know when you write raw it just makes it real and authentic. Forgetting all the punctuation, correct grammar etc. (even though it is important). But nothing is as powerful as the realness of making your readers feel what you wrote. Like if your writing a paragraph in a way that is happy (or whatever descriptive words you might use) you want them embrace every word. emotion. thought process. just everything. Like I said before bringing the rawness and authenticity to it just makes it so nice.

        Sorry! If you read one of my blog post I think you might understand a little better . I have hard time explaining how I write and so on.. I’m sorry for writing so much .

        Again great posts I really related to questions “How will I be remembered?” – I consider myself already at that place. I mean that in a not so..,,

  21. As a woman in the middle of my lifeline, I can tell you, you will say this to yourself for the rest of your life!
    Many folks have asked me what I’m leaving on this earth for my legacy since I chose not to have chitlins. Personally, I don’t give a hoot. My only priority in life is to be happy. Screw what others do or think you should do with your life. It’s simple – Just do what makes you happy & don’t worry about what legacy or memories you leave. I hope peeps at my funeral just say, “She was the happiest person I knew!”
    Congrats on gettin’ pressed!

    1. Everyone’s main goal should be similar, if not the same, to yours: BE HAPPY.

      It sounds so easy, and really, it kind of is. It’s all the white noise that can be distracting and make you forget that it’s quite easy to be happy.

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  22. Loved your post…but a little wisdom from me to you. If everyday you focus on others, you will have accomplished far more than you can ever imagine…You will find so much joy and love from those around you that you will certainly leave a mark in this world. Does it really matter…hell yeah! Because when your goal is to make a mark by doing for others you find the greatest success. Good luck with your book…I’ll be sending you good thoughts. (You are young and have at least 70 years of living ahead of you!)

  23. Thanks for this. I always try to “appreciate the moment” because even if it’s a rubbish moment, when looking back from years ahead it will have become a treasured memory and there’s nothing worse than realising that you didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Take the time to appreciate the moment!

  24. Lovely writing Steven. I am 37. I have been asking these questions since I was 18. I am not much closer to knowing the answers. But I seem to make far better choices now – choices that seem to fit me and those around me well.
    When I was younger, I thought I wanted to leave some sort of a legacy. Now, and it’s a cliche, it’s the simple things. I hope friends and family remember good times, good food and good drinks around our kitchen table. And how I always had a sherry before I made the roast dinner. And I don’t care if that’s boring!
    I am a parent myself now. I thought I would have some answers so I could pass them on to my kiddies. I don’t really, but it is great working it through with them.
    I’m new to blogging, and I am finding that a great way to really understand what I think and feel. Does it help you in that way too?

    1. I don’t think we necessarily have to know the answers. It’s all a part of life.

      The simple things are ABSOLUTELY what matters. I have an assignment that I give my developmental writing students that deals with defining success…and the best essays written are those that talk about family and love and loving what you’re doing with your life career-wise, not necessarily about all the money, cars, clothes, etc.

      And yes, blogging absolutely helps me streamline my thoughts. it’s very therapeutic. Welcome to the community!!! I wish you LOTS of love and success!

  25. I think everyone ask themselves these questions from time to time. It doesn’t matter how much you accomplished you will still feel like you have more to do to be remembered.

  26. Point so well made….should one be remembered for how they lived or how they died?….and life is not the opposite of death….so true and profound!
    you’ve left me with plenty of good thoughts and a vigour, i’ve rarely experienced…
    thanks for sharing and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    1. Thank you!!!

      I’m glad I could invigorate you! That’s the true power of writing, I guess.

      I know that I, for one, would only want to be remembered by who I was when I was alive. To focus on death doesn’t do any good. Life is ongoing, and so should we be, in thought, spirit, etc.

  27. My husband & I recently lost his mother by someone hitting her in the head with a hammer. She lived for 6 1/2 months, 4 times on life support. She was a very vibrant woman. It took everything from us to try to keep her alive for the time she did. It showed us what life is about & how fast it can be taken from you. I agree with you about living your life to the fullest & being anything and everything you can be. Don;t take it for granted. Enjoy what you have & respect it.

    1. Very sorry to hear about your mother-in-law ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      We never know when life will end. I think the journey is more important than the inevitable end, and that’s why we must live every day with full, honest hearts and feel truly, deeply ALIVE.

      As days pass, I take less and less for granted, and I’m beginning to really appreciate everything.

      Thanks for stopping by! ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. An outstanding piece about death! Really made me think, I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who has been doing a little personal research on this. And he actually took me to breakfast because I discovered it for him…lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanx for spending time to write this. We’ll done. It leads to allot of great discussion.

  29. Really thought-provoking. I find myself asking questions like this from time to time. Death is a part of our reality, so it’s normal to question death. Keep going and you’ll be remembered. We all are in some way.

  30. I think the Cory Monteith tribute on Glee was so tastefully done, and it definitely made me appreciate my family and friends more. Because you just never know when the last time we’ll see them is. Very insightful blog post. Really making me think about death and such.

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