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Inside looking out: How we can live forever

Published August 03. 2019 06:01AM

There is no secret uncovered or an amazing medical discovery disclosed about everlasting life that will be revealed in this column.

Heaven can wait.

It’s a simple truth that we all possess the power to keep everyone we have known who has died “alive” here on earth.

My father died in 1970, my mother in 1997, my oldest sister in 2007 and my other sister in 2011.

They are all still very much alive through me. I think of each of them often. I don’t wake up in the morning with a plan to remember experiences I had with any one of my family, but ordinary daily events keep reminding me when I had shared moments with each.

I’ll drive by a river that looks just like the South Branch of the Raritan in Neshanic, New Jersey, where my dad and I fished for rainbow trout. I’ll see a young mother wave to her son who sits at the window of a school bus and I’ll remember my mom waving to me from the back door of our house as I walked down the street to my elementary school.

Not all memories are welcomed back. A few months before my oldest sister died, she looked across the room at me on Christmas Eve and said, “Did mom ever tell you she loved you?” Now that thought comes to my mind whenever I say or hear someone repeat the words, “I love you.” My sister’s question instills in me the special joy these words bring if we are fortunate to be able to love and to be loved.

My other sister, in her final days after fighting a mysterious illness for eight long years, called me one night and said in a frail voice, “I’ve given up praying to God. Now I’m going to ask Santa Claus if he might give me the gift of a few more days.”

Now when I feel chronic pain in my lower back that radiates my sciatic nerve down through my leg, I’m reminded of her sense of humor. Instead of whining about how bad I feel, I’ll joke about what a pain in the butt I am.

The point is that after we die, we live in the memories of family and friends. Mitch Albom says it his way in the epilogue of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”: “Each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.” His words resonate with me. Our loved ones live on in our memories, giving all of us an incredible permanence in the stories we share of life on earth.

I have known those who had died by illness or tragic accident long before reaching their golden ages. When I hear any song performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival, I think of a high school friend who we all called “Sergeant Starch” because he wore shirts with ridiculously high collars, and whenever he turned his head, his face would bang into the “wall” of the collar.

He took his own life after despairing over the breakup with his girlfriend, but my mind locks out the details of that fact. Instead, I recall his hilariously bad singing of CCR’s songs from the late ’60s and how he fell asleep in English class one day and snored so loud, our teacher banged a dictionary on his desk so hard, making Starch jump up so fast his knees broke off the top of his desk.

I taught a wonderful young lady who had married after high school and gave birth to two beautiful children. She died in a car accident before she was 30. Her infectious smile and her ability to command the attention of a room full of people just with her confident presence keeps her living in me. I have seen her rare qualities in a few others that make me think of her, that ability to draw attention without trying, captivating an audience without a loud mouth or an inflated ego. We were captured by her subtle charm.

We may not think that the stories of our lives will remain long after our final breath, nor do we live in such a passionate way that we intentionally build our legacies to pass on to younger generations.

And yet our time on earth is very brief, whether we live to 8 or 80, so why not burn our initials onto that tree of life for others to remember us by. Leave our mark on the world that will remain long after we are physically gone.

Sopho Archon, founder and creator of the Unbounded Spirit, writes, “Ultimately, all relationships are short-term relationships — they end quickly, even if they last for a lifetime (considering the infinite vastness of time). … So let’s savor what we’ve got while we can and make the most out of our lives, by immersing ourselves in the present moment and squeezing all the good juice out of it.”

Perhaps you’re correct, Mr. Archon, but we also have the gift of eternity that breathes with every heartbeat. From the fruit of the womb until that last drop of juice falls into the soil of the earth, the essence of our lives will live on in others forever.

Rich Strack can be reached at katehep11@gmail.com.

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