How to Be Gone

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 21, 2019

One of my favorite proverbs says, “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” I take this to mean that, if you’re in an unfortunate position (like the poor lamb who’s just had his protective fleece removed), the chances are that things will now get a little better for you, rather than worse (so the wind won’t be as cold as it could have been.) Modern theorists have their own term for this phenomenon (which can indeed be scientifically proven). They call it “Regression to the Mean.” I prefer the simpler statement of the same principal: THINGS AVERAGE OUT.

Unfortunately, in a broader sense, this does not lead one to a very optimistic outlook. In the language of Physics, the same concept is expressed in the idea of ENTROPY, indicating that the ultimate state of the Universe is, or will be, a bland featureless nothingness, in which everything has finally averaged out.

That prospect is a little too hard to handle as we navigate our lives from day to day. Still, we must face the fact that life too “averages out,” in the sense that we appear to begin and end in the same state. Once we were nowhere. Then we are “here.” Then we are “gone.”

Young people in general don’t worry too much about this – and why should they? For them it’s too much to try to see beyond the “here,” of which they have more than enough to deal with.

But those of us whose “here” is rapidly dwindling find ourselves beset by issues such as “What will become of everything I leave?” “What about the people from whom I’ll be permanently ‘gone’?” “What of the causes and institutions which have been important to me?” – perhaps even, “What should be done with my body when I’m no longer in it?”

For all such matters, there are in general two possible answers:

The first is to prepare what we call a “Will.” This is some witnessed and/or recorded expression, often in the form of a legal instrument, by which the “dead hand” of the departed seeks to influence, control, or bind the living.

The second answer is, in effect, simply not to care – to leave no will, and let those who do care handle it however they wish, after you’re gone. The Law calls this “dying intestate.” One of the most famous examples in history of someone who died intestate was Alexander the Great. When he died in 323 B.C. at the age of 33, he’s said to have been asked to whom he wished to leave his vast empire. His reported answer was “TO THE STRONGEST.” The result was years of fighting amongst his generals.

The succession to Mohammed, who died nearly 1000 years later, in 632 A.D., turned out to be even more complicated and disputed, and indeed has led to the deep divisions among Muslims which persist to this day.

So, if you have a lot to leave, and if you care about what happens to it, any lawyer (or historian) would advise you to make a will.

But why should you care? That is a philosophical question, which I must admit has increasingly been of personal interest to me in recent years – but only because people keep asking me about it. Otherwise, the answer seems obvious, especially if, like me, you have no children or other close connections to provide for, and no belief in any kind of an “after-life.” If life is all there is, what point is there in trying to think outside that box? When you die, the world ceases to exist.

Henry David Thoreau apparently had similar feelings. Shortly before he died in 1862, he was asked if he had any sense of what was to come – to which he replied: “ONE WORLD AT A TIME!”

But what about your “legacy”? This word crops up frequently in my discussions with friends. It is also a favorite topic when Presidents are close to the ends of their administrations. It savors of “reputation.” How do you want people to think of you after you are gone? Presidents, of course, have to express themselves presidentially, saying things like, “What matters to me is what people think now, and how I can do the best possible job in the time I have left.”

As for you and me, it seems that, like the shorn lamb, our best hope is for a wind tempered by the Law of Averages.


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