I was deeply saddened earlier this week to learn of the death of a really great kid. I suppose he really wasn’t a kid, but I thought of him as one of my kids, one of my social dance kids. There are a select group of social dance students I saw through many (all, in some cases) of their social dance classes and actually got to know as individuals. It’s sad that I couldn’t get to know more, but it’s hard when a student is only in class one or two quarters, and especially hard if that student never actually interacts with me. Guy took many classes, though, and I began to look forward to his smiling face and rainbow toe socks in class. He wasn’t necessarily the quickest learner, but he always put 100% effort into whatever we were teaching, and he had a great attitude. I remember working with him a couple times after classes, when he would ask me for help on a move or comments on his form. He was always so nervous, and I tried to just smile and let him know that yes, he was doing a very good job (because he was). I remember seeing him as I walked through campus and always being greeted with a big smile and a “Hi, Lara!” I remember Richard telling me that Guy was having some trouble with attendance, because sometimes the treatments he was undergoing were just taking too much out of him to leave energy for dancing, and we understood and were that much happier to see him when he could make it to class. His death, while not totally unsurprising, makes me very sad – the social dance community will really miss his presence. I will miss his presence.
As I thought of Guy and the impact he had on me in the little ways mentioned above, I began to wonder if he ever realized he was having that impact. Did he know how grateful I was for those smiles? Did he know how happy it made me that he was taking the time to acknowledge me and my presence in classes? Did he know how positively he affected the atmosphere of the dance community? If I had to guess, I would say he didn’t know any of that; I doubt he had any idea that I thought of him so highly. Which begs the question: How many other people’s lives did Guy touch without ever knowing it?
Being a human being, and thus prone to self-reflection and grand extrapolations, I began to wonder if this wasn’t a valid question for most of us. How many people have I affected in some long-lasting and powerful way? How many people would you say that you’ve impacted? I would hazard a guess that both of those numbers are higher than I or you would say they are. The metaphor of ripples in a pond is a common one because it is so true: Each of us, in even the smallest of actions, has profound and far-reaching effects on the world around us – effects that sometimes (maybe even often) we don’t ever see. I experienced this to a small degree after giving my testimony junior year; senior year, a girl I’d never met emailed me to ask if we could meet to talk about my testimony. It turned out a friend of hers was going through the same thing I’d been through, and she had never known anyone else to go through it. Wanting to help her friend, she went out on a limb and asked me to give her some advice. I don’t know for sure what happened with that friend, but if things turned out well for her, can I claim I had no part in that? (If things turned out badly, can I claim I had no part in that?) At the very least, I affected this girl who spoke with me, because if I hadn’t given my testimony, she would not have had anyone to talk to about the problem. How many others did I reach without ever realizing it?
I was talking to OP the other day, and he said his biggest fear is “being forgotten.” To him, there is nothing scarier than the thought that someday he will die, and while he may be remembered by people for a while, eventually, the world will collectively have no memory of his existence. I can understand the fear in theory – it is, to me, a fear of living your whole life without making a difference. It is a fear, in essence, of insignificance.
But this is different than fearing being forgotten. The dictionary definition of forget is “To be unable to remember,” or, “To cease remembering.” But the dictionary defines remember as, “To recall to the mind with effort; to think of again.” That is, before we can remember something, we *must* – by definition – know it; or, another way, we cannot remember that which we never knew. To be forgotten by the world, I would first have to be known by the world. It is, therefore, almost certainly true that the world, as a whole, will not remember me. The people who knew me, however – and especially those who loved me – will remember me.
To give OP an example, I talked about my dad. Has my dad been forgotten? On first glance, definitely not. Upon visiting my high school (where he worked for, oh, sixteen years or so), you could easily find evidence that he has been remembered. In the office hallway, you would find two large plaques that read, “Larry Doyle Hall of Fame Awards.” At the graduation awards ceremony, you would see two people honored to receive the “Larry Doyle Scholarship Award,” which is funded mostly by the proceeds from the Larry Doyle football game against Newport Harbor. And every winter, you would hear about the girls basketball team and their performance at the Larry Doyle Orange County Championships annual tournament. To claim he has been forgotten would seem silly.
But as you walk through that office, you will find that many people could not actually tell you much about that man at all – they never met him, or, if they did, they did not know him very well. When those two students receive their scholarship in June, they will admit that they have no idea who Larry Doyle is, or why a good balance of scholarship and athletics was so important to him. And the vast majority of fans at the final game of the Larry Doyle OC Championships will not be able to tell you why this man deserves the honor of two weeks of basketball games in his name. All of these people, they don’t remember him at all. But that’s because they can’t – they never knew him. Those people who knew my dad have not forgotten him, not a bit. Those of us who loved him remember him all the time, in everything we do. It’s true, however, that once the last of us is dead and gone, there will be no one on this earth who can honestly say they remember Larry Doyle.
Personally, I think that’s okay. My dad was a rare breed – he made big changes in his community, and that community has honored him in many ways to show its gratitude. I can aspire to the same level of importance, but I know I might not ever get there. And I’m okay with that. Because I know that the people who have known me – really known me as a person – will remember me during their lives. I don’t need to change the world in a big way – I’m pretty happy changing the world in little ways, and letting the ripples go where they will.