Remembering the dead through the pattern of their words

One day, you will die. I will die. We will all die. There's no escaping this simple fact.

Even if you believe life extension and pseudo-immortality wait around the corner, you will still die. It is the nature of our universe that all things change and, eventually, cease to exist. Or more correctly, all things are recycled into new and exciting patterns. As Joni Mitchell once wrote in one of the most scientifically accurate pop songs of all time, “We are stardust, we are golden; We are billion-year-old carbon."

These thoughts are not morbid. These thoughts are merely the ways of life.

I began reflecting on this after browsing through the old messages in my email account. I've had this account since the late '90s and there are thousands of emails in the system. Of special interest are conversations with friends and family members who have passed away. These are literal slices of life. My mother-in-law excited at my family's upcoming visit to Ohio.  My great friend Asim Sidique wanting to see the anime movie Tokyo Godfathers after I praised it in a previous discussion.

Some of the emails are sad. I received an email from Josie Fowler a few weeks before she died. She obviously knew she was near death but didn't mention this fact to me. Instead, she asked about my family and my writing and said to always remember what's important in life. Rereading that message flashed me to a memory of once wandering around the Uptown area of Minneapolis, feeling lonely and irritated at life until I ran into Josie. I walked with her for a while and we talked and laughed and I came away happy at sharing a moment with such a genuinely good person.

Or the email from John Harmon, an archeologist I worked with at Auburn University. He died in a car wreck seven years ago. What makes me sad is it appears I didn't respond to him when he emailed. I probably intended to get back to him at some point. Maybe I was busy. Maybe I didn't see the email when it first came in.

But even though I didn't respond, I have the memories of the two of us working archeology sites across Alabama. How we once worked a government-required archeology survey on a busy street--dodging cars as he laughed about the zero odds of an archeology site surviving in the middle of two lanes of asphalt. Or how we once surveyed a swamp and found a massive longleaf pine tree which had survived the loggers of decades before.  Both of us together couldn't reach around the base of its trunk. I hope the tree still stands.

So many memories.

I don't know how long these emails will survive. Like everything else in our universe, they'll one day disappear. While it is unlikely anyone will ever sing about being made of the billion-year-old electrons which once created emails, electronic mail is no more permanent than any other form of communication. Words written on paper. Words spoken by friends sitting around a campfire. All of those words and the people who create them eventually pass away.

But the amazing thing is that the patterns those words create survive. After reading or hearing our friends' words we are not the same people we were before. Our lives are nudged into exciting new directions--a change we may not understand even when our own lives reach their end.

So while all things pass away, the patterns remains. Or more correctly, our patterns echo on just as the billion-year-old carbon which makes up our bodies also continues forward, ever creating new and delightful works.

to fall at her feet and worship her life