What Lives On Is Fuel

What seems to live on past life are genes, debts, wealth (if you’re lucky) — or stories: imperfect and decaying summaries of people.

Stories are the best propagators, though. Rings or photos or art conjure memories for the bereaved but only stories convey a sense of a person to anyone else.

In my country we don’t solemnize this idea. We blithely tell the story of anyone gone: friend, foe, close, or distant, because we exalt the freedom to speak past our knowledge. We tell the stories of anyone else’s beloved passed because in telling it, it’s now our story.

The message we don’t intend: your dead are past caring about and we need them to compete.

But it should feel wrong to use the grieving and injure their stories. Even when there are grave reasons to do it, we should be forced to confront what we’re actually saying to those left behind. We should wear a sign saying —

“I’m sorry. I have a story to tell about someone close to you. It’s important. I know it may hurt you and crack the final vessel you used to share your story. But my story is more important than you. You are less important than my goal.

Here we don’t honor kindnesses of restraint because we don’t honor passing on opportunities, which we believe is a characteristic of the weak. Far too often we become lazy grifters invading the stories of the grieving to use because: freedom or truth or something.

I think about Tamir’s story, told with litigation. Is this really his summary: youthfully reckless with dire luck? Or Scalia’s: a coarse bully who bent the law to his ideology? Or Eco’s: a genius semiotician who abandoned his faith? Or Nancy Reagan’s: indifferent to disease or addiction? At best these look less like stories and more like book jacket blurbs — off in truth by the distance of an entire lived life.

This is our fault: we’re all a careless audience — our penchant for partial stories is also one for false stories.

It feels like we’re all living with an unkind philosophy to rationalize our approach to using people’s lives. We do this partly because, in my country, we believe in taking what’s available — our dead are fuel for the strong.

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