“He Lives In You”: Ancestors, Character, and Immortality
My grandfather has become a stronger presence in my life since he passed away last year.
It’s not just that I reminisce more (I do) or look back at pictures or keepsakes (I do that, too). I find myself striving to be as optimistic, good-natured, generous, manly, and dependable as he was. I feel the weight and beauty and promise of his legacy in a way I never felt when he was still living.
It’s almost like I feel I can and should embody the best of him now that he can’t. And I have the feeling I’m not alone. He lived the kind of life that made a lot of people want to be like him.
For now, this feels like the truest sense of immortality which my grandfather has: he “lives in me”, and in the people he impacted. He has become to me much like Mufasa becomes to Simba in The Lion King – which eloquently expresses this connection between dead ancestors and their living descendants.
I used to pooh-pooh this sort of idea as New Age nonsense. But it doesn’t take any special woo-woo belief to see that a person’s character – which in so many ways defines a human life – can live on in new containers. It may no have no independent existence of their own, but the “genetics” of someone else’s character can be played out again through my own actions, thoughts, and values.
Of course, it’s still very much a toss-up to see how well I express what I love and loved about my grandfather’s character, his spirit. I hope that I can be half as good. I also hope that I can transcend some of his weaknesses. Inch by inch in a chain of ancestors, we move forward. He took long strides in life, and the living memory of his character now gives me strength to take my own.
James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.