Gone but not gone

I was taking my usual walking route from home to lab this morning when I unexpectedly found myself thinking about a friend who died quite a few years ago. I can’t be sure, but I think the memory was provoked by two confluent circumstances: First, a stranger passed by me on the street who bore a passing resemblance to my old friend.

Second, as it happened, at that very moment I was just walking past the restaurant where my friend had explained to me, years ago, the regime of chemo- and hormonal therapy that he was undergoing in an attempt to arrest his spreading cancer. I remember that he had recounted this ordeal to me calmly, with no rancor. It was simply what was happening, and he was observing it all with a kind of intellectual grace.

How strange it is that each of us has all of these people in our heads. Some of these people are now passed on, yet they are still vividly alive to us. We know a thing or two about what they would say in a particular situation that is happening now – long after they are gone from this earth – or the kind of joke they would toss off, the particular way they would smile.

I am glad to have these fine people inside me, and to know I share them with others whose lives they also touched. In this way we are – each of us – never really gone. Our essence merely becomes disbursed into the minds of those who knew us, and those people are changed by this infusion. One day they may pass those little infusions of individual essence on to others.

Perhaps a hundred years from now somebody – someone I will never meet – will gesture in a certain way, or tell a joke with a particular spin, or laugh with just an exact kind of sardonic humor. And that will be a little bit of me, still echoing through time in the collective living memory.

3 thoughts on “Gone but not gone”

  1. Hm, the last paragraph provokes the opposite question… how much of you is actually not you, but others echoing?
    Is that individuality just a collection of other (just as collective) individuals?

    Too much to ponder on a Saturday 😉

  2. this actually reminds me quite a bit of Douglas Hofstadter’s concept of “shared souls” and internal mental models of loved ones that he discusses in both eloquent and touching terms in ‘I Am A Strange Loop.” Of particular interest and relevance to your post were the excerpts of letters back and forth between him and Daniel Dennett after the death of Hofstadter’s wife.

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