John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Posthumous Shelf Lives

What is the posthumous shelf-life of a human life?

(Or the length of time before it is no longer of use, or suitable for sale?)

We all would like to be immortal. Or at least avoid coming to grips with the fact that we are mortal and our time on this planet is finite.

As my first step-father shrewdly put it to me many years ago when I was in college. “Look around this restaurant (there were about 100 patrons). Everyone of here has fully accepted that everyone in this restaurant is going to die one day. Except them.”

I thought that was very wise. I also never returned to that particular restaurant after that story.

So, now what? We aren’t immortal…but can we leave a legacy? Will people’s memory of us linger on many, many years after we pass?

I got a curt glimpse at that answer a few days ago while getting coffee and eavesdropping on two female customers at the condiment bar. It went something like this.

Lady 1: “Did you not hear? Yes, he had a heart attack and died.”

Lady 2: “Oh, no. I hadn’t heard. That is so sad. How old was he?”

Lady 1: “I think he was 58. Too young. I can’t believe it. He was in the Hawaii and just died suddenly of a heart attack, I heard.”

Lady 2: “That is just so sad. Way too young……Oh, did I tell you I was in Hawaii about 6 months ago…..”

My conservative estimate —at least for these two casual acquaintances— this unfortunate gentleman’s posthumous shelf life was about 11.2 seconds.

Sure we can leave legacies and loved ones will talk about us for longer than 11.2 seconds. But the harsh reality, it seems, is that any credit we hope to make up for in goodwill memories after we die, aren’t going to be worth much at all. And if we want to be well thought of….and have a full life, we’re better off asking what can we do today instead of banking on some pleasant lingering sentiment posthumously.

Unless, of course, we were one of the 100 people in the restaurant that night that believes this is true for everyone else alive. Except them.


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