In the memorial service to a great man or woman, the epitaph speaks of those accomplishments as the work of a lifetime. The legacy of their children is called forth to witness in the light of day; the memory itself is carried forth by wives and husbands, by brothers and sisters, by friends and, too, by foes.
It is perhaps an inevitable function of our existence that we define ourselves in ephemeralities. Our employment. Our property. The respect and regard of others. Our reputation and our legacy writ in the stones we laid or the children whose blood we birthed. Our hopes and fears. Our happiness.
But we fear death not so much for the passing, but rather for the loss of self.
Before we were here, we did not think, and yet we do not fear that time before we were born. When our bodies have at last failed us and our consciousness fled, we will be no different than that when before we were.
If there is consciousness before or after our physical existence, then death – and birth – are merely transitions of consciousness. If there is no consciousness beyond the moments of our physical existence, then we cannot know what we are not.
The wave as it crosses the ocean contains not a single drop of the water it will contain when it at last exhausts its fury upon the shore. Our own bodies are constantly crumbling apart and rebuilding, and not a single molecule of us remains the same from birth to death. Our physical truth is one of borrowed coats of matter.
Is this, then, so different from the product of our choices?
When we shame a promise or fail a conviction, does that dishonor the concept of a promise or the value of a conviction? When we rise above our personal darknesses and defy our fears, does that make darkness less to be dreaded for another, or fear less a terror to others?
As our bodies are borrowed coats of matter, so too are our choices borrowed mantles of ephemera. By our own choices we bring forth what is within ourselves, and by what we bring forth make around us greatness or infamy.
In the end, we are the might of the moments of our existence. Though we may be remembered for our successes and defined by our failures, we are the sum of our choices and the synopsis of our actions. We are capable of horrors and cruelties, even as we hold within ourselves the seeds of integrity and greatness. Each moment is a choice, and that choice is all that truly belongs to us.