A few weeks ago - a man I have known for a decade, passed away. As an African American, he worked as a young person with various components of the Civil Rights movement. He went on to distinguish himself with an earned Ph.D., and various forms of Civic and Government work.
Committed to his African heritage, as an adult he changed his name from a common American name, a "Joe Smith,” to an indigenous name deeply rooted in African History.
Last week, as I drove by his house, I witnessed agents of his estate clearing items from his home. His diplomas from several schools lay in discarded debris, clearly set out as trash. His legal American name, given to him at birth, had been delicately replaced with his indigenous name on each document, many years before.
I stood for several minutes, debating if I should retrieve the certificates from the rubbish pile, even as I realized I had no “use” for them – and I would not “display” them – nor need their credentialing authority.
All of our things for all of our lives, ultimately will end up in some trash heap. Very, very, very few things last through time – from any persons in history. This important sonnet by Percy Shelley, Ozymandias, captures the inevitable decline of all our achievements.
I wonder today:
- What am I acquiring or achieving that will outlast me?
- Will my life have meaning beyond the diplomas on my wall, the items I acquire, or the work that I accomplish in the short run?
- How can my life have meaning and value that lasts beyond my existence?
I humbly submit – I have no “new thing” to offer the world. I have no new wisdom.
And yet, I do not see life as a meaningless void.
I can & will live in service to others, in the hope & belief that my life’s conversation & contribution & charitable aid, small though it may be – will help others toward a better future for all that lives and breathes and moves in Creation.