About 8 summers ago, I rode up an ancient, hilly two-lane road in rural upstate New York with my friend Terry., who was searching for the grave of one of her 19th-century ancestors. We pulled off the road next to a cemetery in the middle of no place in particular, which couldn't have contained more than 20 or 30 graves. It was nestled at the forked junction of two roads which were bordered primarily by woods. She was jubilant when she found the grave of one of her distant relatives. As we were leaving the cemetery I happened to notice an inscription on one of the gravestones. I don't remember exactly how the flowery Victorian verse read, but the upshot was this:
“Where you are now is where I once was.
Where I am now is where you're eventually going to be.
The way many of us deal with the whack upside the head which is the realization of our own mortality is to resolve to be remembered, to live on in some form. We build actual or symbolic monuments to ourselves. We try to be famous, or at least conspicuously successful. We let funeral directors talk us into arrangements to purchase monuments worthy of a Civil War general for when the Grim Reaper finally comes knocking on our door. Those of us with millions to spare donate buildings named after ourselves to universities whose students will never know or care who we were, or set up endowments for organizations devoted to our promoting our hobbies, attacking our pet peeves or nurturing causes close to our hearts.
There's nothing wrong with respecting yourself enough to want a dignified exit. Giving money to organizations which support your world views is the sincerest way of backing those views up. But as for being remembered after you pass, my own view on the whole matter is this: if you want to be remembered after you're gone, don't try to do it by plopping a great stone monument with your name on it over your grave. Do you know how many people drive right past those things every single day without giving them a second glance or thought? No, if you want to be remembered, leave a legacy. The late composer/performer Frank Zappa remarked, shortly before his own untimely death, that he had no intention of making any extraordinary effort to commemorate himself as many politicians and celebrities routinely do (his grave isn't even marked). He didn't have to. His music will doubtlessly be studied and enjoyed by scholars and music lovers for many years to come.
To further clarify my point, how many of you have ever heard of Waldo Semon? Not many, right? Well, it just so happens that in 1926, Mr. Semon perfected a material called polyvinyl chloride, often simply called vinyl. I'd never heard of Mr. Semon until very recently but DJ's and “crate diggers” the world over (like yours truly) have him to thank. Even though vinyl is no longer used as extensively as it once was as a medium for recorded music, it made high-fidelity sound recording and marketing practical. There would probably be no CD's, MP3's or FLAC files if not for Mr. Semon's invention.
Frankly, if the only legacy that you leave behind after you're gone is the circle of friends, lovers and relatives who shed tears at your funeral, you're doing pretty well.