by Jake Block
Coda, n. [It., from L, coda, cauda, tail.] in music, a final passage, which brings a composition to a definite, formal close.
Imagine, if you will, a funeral…yours. You will be the center of attraction as a eulogy is read by one incapable of speaking anything but the truth. Good, bad or indifferent, the speaker will lay your life out before this final gathering in your name, and by what is spoken shall you be remembered evermore. And during this eulogy, you will feel the pride and shame of your life, although frozen in death.
Were this the way that one is actually put to rest, then how many of us would lead our lives as we do? I’ll be the first to admit that while I’ve led an enjoyable life for the most part, there are moments that I have been less than proud of, and I certainly wouldn’t want my mother to have a front row seat at my eulogy! A line from Eric Burdon and the Animals 60’s tune Good Times comes to mind…”When I think of all the good time that’s been wasted having good times…”
Born to live and to die, man is given life without a technical manual. We can study the errors and missteps of the past, but in the long run, it is up to each individual to accept or discard what has been learned. We know that it is better to tell the truth than to lie, but sometimes a lie is not only prudent, but necessary. It may be “more blessed to give than to receive,” but we receive with pleasure and sometimes give less than we should. We are sometimes vain, sometimes irreverent, sometimes covetous and sometimes we kill. Yes, we sometimes bend or break the laws, and that makes us human.
There are some individuals who try to live life by a book of laws, be it the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud or a hundred other books of societal or religious canon. They strive for the perfection of an archetypical savior and feel disgrace when they fail, knowing in their hearts that unless they can “measure up,” they will be doomed to eternal punishment for their crime…that of being human. By those standards, were one to believe in a heaven and hell, “Heaven” would be a peaceful village and “Hell” would indeed be “standing room only.
So we know that we’re not alone in our iniquities and that as we have sinned, so too have those who’ve trod this path before and so too shall those who follow our lead. Ok, we all make mistakes and we all have felt the sting of bitter tears for errors that we’ve made. It doesn’t make us bad people.
When I hear “bible-thumpers” of any religion regaling people with the assertion that their laws are supreme in the universe, I cringe. My mind goes back to the wars, death and destruction that the world has known, mostly because god was on the side of one faction or the other, and that made it perfectly fine to kill the inhuman slime on the other side. Meanwhile, on the “other side,” leaders were certain that god was on their side and they exhorted their troops to kill with the knowledge that their cause was just. In the end, did it matter?
“Good and Evil” being subjective terms at best, who among us is qualified to state what is categorically good or evil in absolute terms?
Certainly each of us is flawed in our judgements and our dealings with others, and as we judge, so too must we be judged. And this judgement will not be by some god who weighs our lives on scales of some eternal balance. We will be judged by those we leave behind; those who keep us alive in their memories. This being the case, is it not prudent that we not steal, not cheat and not harm those around us without provocation? You don’t need a book of laws to tell you how to live in harmony.
I know that I try to do good, but in doing good for myself and mine, there is always a possibility that what I am doing may be perceived as evil to another. I can’t help that, so I try not to worry about it. You simply try to live your life as best you can, helping those that you can along the way.
Very few, if any, individuals are motivated solely by altruism. While it might be wonderful to think that the world could be peopled by Mother Theressa clones, we know that it’s not a realistic vision. Man is acquisitive and, despite our protestations of grandeur, predatory as well. Survival instincts must be followed and satisfied before altruistic indulgences can be entertained. It’s as simple as that. We take care of ourselves and those who fall within our rather small circle of family and friends first and then allow others to draw from our economic or emotional reserves. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way all creatures are, from man to the lowest species of animal life.
Where we as a species tend to stray is when we become mean-spirited and self-centered enough to believe that we can say or do anything we damned well feel like doing, simply by virtue of being. We feel that our rights are somehow sacrosanct and take precedence over the rights of others, and if they don’t like it, then it’s too bad. The me generation spawned a cross section of humanity that has become repulsive in its inhumanity towards others. Greed and self promotion became the sole motivations for this cult of the selfish. There can be no leader of this cult, since to acknowledge the greater power or ability of another would be the antithesis of the cult’s persona as a whole.
There is no perfect person and no perfect philosophy. People are by definition flawed and prone to errors of personal prejudice. Those who would tread the path of perfection soon find that path to be perilous. We all make mistakes and we all fail. It’s human. But we try, and that’s commendable, so long as we don’t try to place more emphasis on our efforts than they really deserve.
If you ever run across someone who tells you that they’re helping you because they’re just wonderful and generous, get a good handle on your wallet. People will help you, don’t get me wrong, but there has to be something in it for them. The reward may be tangible, or it may be in the stroking of their ego, but there is a reward in there somewhere.
Be kind to one another and, as possible, understanding of the needs of individuals. Just because their needs may differ from yours does not mean that they are at odds with you. It simply means that their survival needs and needs for acceptance are satisfied in other ways. Their goals and values may be just as valid, just as positive and just as important to them as yours are to you. If you invalidate them out of hand and condemn them as wrong, so too do you give others the same license to invalidate you and yours.
Perhaps if you follow the rules of common decency and sociability with your fellow man, your eulogy might not be quite the traumatic experience depicted at the beginning of this essay. Living a good and decent life actually boils down to one simple concept. Respect. What better epitaph could any of us have than “Respectful and Respected”?