When I was in Europe last year, I learned of a beautiful family tradition. Every month, family members would congregate at the cemetery to remember their dead ancestors, pray for them, and celebrate the good deeds their ancestors had performed in their lives.
Many oriental cultures do this too, and often take it a bit further in “ancestral worship.” The point of such celebration is, generally, to remember that you have a heritage to live up to, a family honour to preserve, and traditions to continue.
I think such traditions are beautiful. They not only remind us of who once lived, but they remind us of mortality, and the necessity to make the most of our lives as they are. They remind us that one day we too will have great great great great grandchildren, and that if we shame ourselves we will shame them too. It is a greater responsibility to live up to in honouring the past and living well for the future.
There is also a certain degree of comfort derived from knowing that we will be remembered and honoured, and in a sense, immortalized. My grandfather recently passed away, and in mourning I promised myself that his legacy would not die in my family line. He will always live on in my memory, and my memories of the kindest man I’ve ever met will be passed on to my children and grandchildren. If I knew that, when I died, my memory would be thus preserved, I would consider my life well lived.
Reflecting on these traditions, I always begin to wonder what beauty there is in mortality for people of North America who generally neglect their ancestors, and more importantly, why they do not celebrate their ancestors as much as members of more traditional and older nations do. Perhaps it is for that very reason, that North America is too young, too new, and perhaps, too progressive and focused in the now.
This brings me to the question of what do people live for? If not for family, if not for pre-determined moral standards, if not according to what is directed by others and considered acceptable and honourable — what is it that gives people joy and colour to their lives, knowing that it will inevitably end? And perhaps more interestingly, for the people who don’t reflect on mortality, what do they live for?
These reasons, I imagine, are as varied as the stars. Some people have a personal set of moral codes to live by, a personal sense of honour. Some people do believe in setting a good example for their children and their children’s children. Sometimes, people live by the rules of religion. One way or another, the question of “what do I live for?” is probably the most important one we will ever encounter in our lives.
I just hope it won’t be too late once I figure out the answer.