In July 2019 I again read Slaughterhouse Five. It was the 50th. Anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece. Last night Suzanne and I watched a brief documentary about this author. During the program, a Vonnegut friend recalled one of the last conversations he had with the writer. Vonnegut lamented that no one would remember him after he was dead. The friend disagreed and attempted to assure him that his book would be remembered for many more decades and therefore so would he. For me, I can’t imagine Vonnegut not being remembered. His book was monumental and continues to sell over 100,000 copies per year and is taught in high school and college class rooms. According to his friend, Vonnegut was not convinced.
We in the United States recently lost two giants. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis. Neither in stature were titans, Ginsburg stood 5’1 and Lewis 5’6, and neither were ever inhibited in greatness by their height. The outpouring of respect, gratitude, and love at the time of their deaths has given ample proof of their enduring legacy.
A friend and I recently sat in a coffee shop and spoke long and vociferously about many things we know little about. Both being old, neither of us much care about the reality or sensibility of our meandering minds. We both like to talk. As usual, the topics ranged from writing, politics, (yep still on that one) boredom, sage advice on what the other should do, and friendship. I like CC a great deal, not his real initials, he’d get a bigger head if I named him. His hats are already too small for his over-inflated ego.
Eventually, as it always does, our conversation moved towards more serious issues. Our families, other friends, and the reality that we are old and not going to get any younger. I asked my buddy a question about what he hopes to leave behind when he’s gone. He speaks a lot about worthiness, and I’ve yet to understand what that means to him. Most often it sounds like a need to prove something. To himself, to others, I’m not sure. I would apologize to him should he tell me I have that wrong. We talked about the passing (okay; they didn’t pass; they died) of Lewis and Ginsburg. From what I can tell, they were both satisfied with what they had accomplished and who they were. Simply stated, they were content with their lives.
We discussed the belief that we both write in part in order to leave something tangible after we are gone. A dear friend who died some months back wrote this on the back cover of my book The Unusual Man, “A story can reach across a hundred years and still be as fresh as warm-from-the-oven baked bread.” I would be less than honest if I said I didn’t hope my writing lasts a hundred years. Still, I am accutely aware that I too need to check my ego at the door.
The psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the 8 stages of life, the last being Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Erickson told us that around the age of 65 until our death, we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as having led a successful life. But what is a successful life? Is it Power? Money? Fame? Perhaps it is love, friendship, generosity, kindness, humility, and beauty. We all must come to our own personal answers. One of my college professors, Dr. Tom Cannon, told the class to imagine that we were at a funeral, and that funeral was ours. Four people would speak honestly about us: our spouse (partner), our children, our friend, and our boss. He added, do we know we would like what they said about us if they spoke honestly. Dr. Cannon ended it with this idea: if we wouldn’t want to hear what they said, then we already know what we need to change in our lives.
My maternal grandmother died at 103. I doubt she had $10.00 in the bank when she died. Her house later sold for less than $10,000, (in 1995) and she left behind many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. What was her legacy? Granny Annie was the kindest, most loving, most generous, and most humble human I’ve ever met. In my heart, she was a saint. Actual sainthood is bestowed on few, yet many of us have known saints.
CC and I will continue to meet, and we will probably discuss and re-discuss the same ideas we’ve talked about many times. No doubt we will continue to talk about what we wish for now and what we hope for after we are gone. I hope Suzanne will say I was a good partner, lover, and companion. That she knew I loved her. I hope my sons say that I tried to guide them, to give a small amount of wisdom, and that they knew I loved them. My bosses will hopefully say I was a trustworthy employee who gave a full measure to his work. A man that took his work seriously, but not so much himself. And for my friends, my wish is that they will say they knew I was there for them when needed and that they could count on my friendship.
Some say that a person dies three times. When your body dies, when your soul leaves your body and when the last person forgets you. I hope that each of us leave behind a legacy of joy, love, passion, honesty, compassion, happiness, and fond memories. I hope each are fondly remembered for many generations.
Slaughterhouse Five — “So it Goes.”
“I want to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the best of her ability.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” John Lewis
Louie’s Book Bark!
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. A collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. Given that it was recently Veteran’s Day, this book is a must read about a dark time in our country. Possibly the best book ever written about the VietnamWar. Not setimental or complaining, just an honest account of war. Louie gives it a five bark rating.