If we’re lucky, our postmortem shelf-life lasts about 2 generations. After that, the story of us fades from existence entirely. When the collective memory others have of us disappears, we move from mostly dead to truly dead.
We might live a few extra minutes a year in the side glances of strangers who pass by our gravestones (on their way to visit a soon-to-be-permanently-forgotten loved one).
A clever quip on a headstone, and the laughter it generates, can raise us from the dead for a few moments. But honestly, that seems like a desperate attempt by the departed to prolong their existence.
YouTube is a heaven on Earth. A digital preservation of the self that survives after we pass. I believe our subconscious desire for everlasting life is at the core of YouTube’s popularity. We’re the modern-day version of the sculptor in Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, posting digital carvings of ourselves in a futile attempt to stem the tide of our own transience.
As the final memory of us fades to black, we transition from the warmth of humanity to the cold breathless inanimate. In the end, our blood, bone, and guts give way to the flat and dimensionless world of dusty photos, handwritten notes, password-protected social media sites, and, possibly, a couple of YouTube or Tik Tok videos.
Such is our fate.
The thought of man’s impermanence was so bothersome, we invented the concept of an afterlife as as counterbalance. Entire religions have baked the notion of everlasting life into their concocted fairy tales. Most of us were probably raised in a religion that fostered such beliefs.
All of us were probably told by our parents that grandma and grandpa were in heaven, and one day “you’ll see them again!” I’m not sure our parents actually believed this. It’s more likely they were simply repeating what their parents told them, or perhaps they thought this lie would somehow protect us or make us less fearful. Maybe they were just too damn lazy to level with us. Probably a combination of all of these.
I think this world would be a better place if we were just honest with ourselves about our impermanence, and more importantly, honest with our kids about it, from early-on.
Embracing the truth that life is temporary, would make us value and appreciate it more.
Instead of telling our kids that by obeying a set of rules, they’ll get to live forever, we should teach them to live a life that leaves this world in better shape than they found it — so their children and everyone else who comes after them have an opportunity to live comfortably, without undue suffering.
Instead of lying to our kids about heaven, preach to them about human rights and the importance of equity and for preserving our planet.
A philosophy that embraces our temporary nature and stresses a responsibility to preserve the planet for future generations would go a long way towards improving the here-and-now.
All this nonsense about an afterlife has had a negative effect on our culture and our planet. It’s a good example of how well-intentioned dishonesty can be just as destructive as malevolent dishonesty.