Once you have an understanding of your own mortality, you either try to ignore it or you think about ways to avoid it. Ignoring it is easy for most people; the drone of American Idol or the smell of another Big Mac are probably all defense mechanisms against awareness of the end. Avoiding it is tougher, although the most popular solution (reproduction) is easy for most people. Feeling that part of you will live on in your descendants is a good defense against that self-knowledge. I found it was an oddly comforting thing which I didn’t expect when having children. That feeling intensified as I started passing down stories about my deceased relatives to my kids; you’re almost performing some sort of Matrix-like implantation of memories into the next generation. The memories will fade away generation by generation, but the increasing ease of creating near-permanent media (pictures, videos and so on) provide the cues to spark those memories.
Setting the question of whether children satisfy the desire for pseudo-immortality, you have to turn and look at Stonehenge. Some people got together a long time ago and said “let’s build something.” We don’t know exactly why, although it was probably some sort of place of worship or sacrifice or celebration. But we do know someone built it, and in a way the builders put some small part of themselves into that structure which is still sitting there.
Not everyone will build Stonehenge or paint the Mona Lisa. Not everyone will even go to the effort to trace their family tree more than 100 years into the past. Many people won’t care, and retreat to ignorance. Many people will care, and cling to their children as proof ‘they’ will live on forever. Many people will turn to religion and the promise of an afterlife, but even if true it will still be a different life from the life they know. The happiest people, I think, will build.
Most of us are terrible at building our Stonehenge. I have not created anything of much permanence yet in this life. I have not built anything, or written anything of any significance, or started anything I expect to last much past my time here. I suppose I could prepay hosting fees to Godaddy.com for the next 100 years and hope they stay in business and bripblap.com would be here for a while. But I haven’t started a company, or written music or a novel.
And this is why I try to remind myself to focus on creativity. It’s easy to get up, go to work, eat a sandwich, come home, watch TV and go to sleep. I’ve been doing more of that than I should, recently. Doing nothing is a comforting white noise masking the lack of creation in day-to-day life. Small changes can make a difference. Even planting a few seeds will make you feel better than your favorite TV show. Stonehenge wasn’t built in day; the builders must have missed entire seasons of “Druid Idol.” But we know they were here. How will people know you were here?