The Only Thing Better Than Being Remembered

The waves will wash us away.

I’m walking along the beach on the West coast of the United States when I see it, carved into the rock: “S+H 4 Ever.” There is a heart carved around it, and a date: 9/2014. At first, my heart is warmed—it must have been hard to carve, a labor of love. But then, very quickly, my heart is chilled. Three years ago, “forever” was carved deeply into a rock, and three short years later, the crashing water is already eroding and erasing the letters. In those fading letters, I saw myself. I saw all of us.

The waves of time will wash us all away.

purpose meaning

At some level, each of us is aware of this. So, we strive for immortality, by carving our initials into this life—we try to make our mark on the world. We try to make a difference. We long to be remembered. We hope to leave a legacy. We fight to outlast ourselves. But the truth is, aside from the occasional address in a field at Gettysburg, or a speech on the mall in Washington, most of us will not be remembered for very long.

Someone once said, “Every man dies two deaths. The first is when he takes his last breath. The second is the last time someone says his name.”

Our time here is short and, for most of us, the waves of time will eventually wash away even the memory of our existence, no matter how deeply we carve our initials into the bedrock of our lives.

Like I said, the heart-warming inscription only chilled me.

Two days later, though, I’m back in the heartland of America, and I’m sitting beside another body of water—a river—on a colorful, brittle autumn day. The season around me is yet another reminder of how everything and everyone is always dying and passing on. As I sit beside the river, the image of the waves slamming into the shore continues to haunt me. But then something happens.

As I watch the world around me, I see that it’s dancing.

I wish I could describe how the river glittered in the afternoon sun. This is the best I can do: it was like a diamond necklace running right through the forest of dying leaves, a diamond necklace made of water and sun, a diamond necklace being moved tirelessly by some divine hand, refracting light like a gift.

Leaves were being pulled loose from trees in a gentle breeze, then spun clockwise around the trunks on their way down to the cooling earth, where more leaves raced across the grass, apparently in concert, like flocks of birds. When the breeze stilled, the air for a moment looked empty, but if you looked closely enough, you could see millions of minuscule insects moving throughout it, each silhouetted by the slanting sunlight.

Everywhere I looked, the world was moving and dancing, dying and dancing.

Then, I knew: the waves on the West coast weren’t destroying those carved initials—they were dancing with them.

Then, I knew: we are not here to be remembered, we are here to be a dancer. We are here to move in this physical form, to stop moving, to die, to pass on, and then to move in the formless beyond.

Then, I knew: there’s a dance happening there, too.

Merton writes,

“For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

Cast our awful solemnity to the winds.

Or the waves.

And join the dance.

In the end, the great danger isn’t being unremembered; it’s being a wallflower, when all of creation is inviting us out onto the floor of our life, for the cosmic dance.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Loveable is about how to transform our search for a purpose into a dance. It is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Martin Walker

    Hi, I have been a subscriber for quite some time. I always read your posts. Sometimes they are brilliant. Sometimes they don’t hit a chord with me. They are still always worth reading. I save the ones that affect me most. The oldest I have is from the 6th August 2014. Now I have the newest to save.You really do have a great talent of observation just like artists and comedians ( both can have an extraordinary ability to see the human condition ) . But it’s not just your observation it’s your advice where it counts. Thank you. Martin

    • Martin, thank you for taking the time to share such encouraging words with me. And I’m glad to hear this one resonated with you so deeply! Enjoy the dance. 😊

  • JC

    I don’t remember anyone beyond my grandparents. I have read about or found information on others in the family tree occasionally. Personally, I don’t worry about my legacy beyond what will be said of me by those I expect to be there at my funeral. I once had a church lesson that inspired me to write down a few words that described the man I wanted to be remembered as. I wanted my family and some close friends to say of me that I was a man of God, that I was generous, and that I lived well. My hope is that when I pass and such comments are made, the handful of folks in the room will nod their heads, smile and then go have a good warm meal and laugh about some of the goofy things I did in their presence (hopefully more than once in their remembrance). I also hope that the next day they get up and get on with their lives, maybe even with a little lighter step and some pep in their conversations. To some that may seem like I wasn’t significant, because it doesn’t destroy anyone that I’m not around. To me it says that I instilled some measure of confidence in others I care about the most to be sure about their future. To know that life goes on beyond this mortality and that there is a divine plan in place to take care of us all.
    I’ve been to funerals where people were distraught, almost inconsolable, those are the funerals I cry at and it’s not because of the person who is missed, it’s because of the pain I feel for those who just don’t know about the purpose of this life. I hope the tears at my funeral are more for the laughter in the less than reverent room than for the sad countenances of the people in the room.

    • This is beautiful, JC, and the sign of a centered soul. And it is a gift to everyone you love. Thank you for sharing it with us, as well!

  • Mike Gates

    “…to forget ourselves on purpose…” That’s just fantastic.

  • Brilliant poetry! Such deep, deep awareness that inspires me to try to be as aware as you are and to just notice so that I too can observe and then join in the dance of life. Thank you so much, Kelly, for your amazing, wonderful, sensitive, beautiful gift that you share with us!!!!

    • Thank you, Jenny! And thank you for the pulling out such an important thread: you can’t join a dance until you notice that it’s happening. Observation of it is so important!

  • Kathleen

    In the end, the great danger isn’t being unremembered; it’s being a wallflower, when all of creation is inviting us out onto the floor of our life, for the cosmic dance.

    I love this quote. I have always felt this to be true, but you have now put it in words. Thank you… Now I must go to continue my dance!

    • I’m so glad I could put your felt knowledge into words, Kathleen; happy dancing!

  • Lynn Moore

    I have so much to learn. Just found Sarah Bragg and you today. I am so grateful God led me to you both, in thes today moments. Thank you.

    • Hi Lynn, welcome to UnTangled! I’m so glad you found Sarah and I. My conversation with her this summer was one of my favorite discussions this year. Grateful you’re here!

  • Jane Meyers Hiatt

    Wow.

  • Kitha Cockrell

    Your words are such lovely food for thought!! My thoughts… “My heart sang with joy when you reached out to pull me into the dance…It’s a dance like no other…When I realized this dance will last forever…It took my breath away”💜

  • Beverley Croft

    Beautifully discussed, I love your you have expressed in this blog. Let us all commit to life, join in the cosmic dance of life full of the joy that it is expressing.We are here to live life to the full, not disappear into our heads. That leads us so astray, into loneliness, depression, all the things we are not.