Once, years ago, I was known as ‘“The Runner Guy.” Not because I was particularly good at running, entered any races, or enjoyed running. I simply found myself in a situation where my only transportation to work was my legs. Every morning I’d get up, pack my things, and course the four miles to work in heat, rain, or snow. Then repeat after work.
Customers didn’t take long recognizing the guy puffing along. The appellation followed soon after. It was amusing, as far as nicknames went, and hardly my worst, but it still galled me. I didn’t see myself as a runner. I wouldn’t even be running had I another way. Running was for exercising only—or for those truly good at it. The ones who embody the name.
Life likes its peculiarities, though, and often holds them in pairs. Some titles we are given, some we take for ourselves. The line, I’ve found, is most interesting to traverse.
Which matters most? Many would say the ones we take for ourselves, the path we forge with our choices and our desires. We think we know ourselves, but we are only partly right. Any view we have of ourselves will be twisted, both good and bad. We wear our strengths, but doubts linger. Pride shoves all else aside. We focus more on who we were than who we are becoming.
Consecutively, we live our lives in the shadows of designations given us. People do not see us as we perceive ourselves or even how we believe they see us, and we so desperately want to be seen. To be known, appreciated. Thus we accept what we are given. We try to be what we believe will supply us the best outcome.
Matters become further complicated because so often we keep our conclusions to ourselves. We do not let others know what we truly think of them, only giving them a small painting so they’ll stick around, hope for more. We claim others know how we feel, what we think, but seldom put them into actuality. Something drastic is required.
Death provides more than adequate resources. All experience death. But it is more than a commonality. Death renders the truth.
When someone dies, everyone gathers and reminisces. The obituary serves as a shroud, the wrapping of a person’s life. With a little probing, the important bits emerge. Good spills out. Hurt oozes. Everyone in the deceased’s life adds their piece to the puzzle of the fallen’s character.
I, with my curious relationship with death, have spent entirely too much time considering what might be put on my tombstone. I know it is most often simply a name and a date, but the novelist or child who played too much Oregon Trail in me longs for that final word. That last impression.
On my worst day, it is “He was a nice person to meet.” Someone diverting, like a clown, fun for a while, but not worth investing in. An interesting person to talk to, but repeated exposure will reveal the pyrite beneath the gleam. Nothing worth remembering.
I’m not a remarkable person. Never wanted to be. I’ve lived my life on the fringes of society, far enough to remain unseen, yet close enough to hear things. Because I, we, want to know.
I know some of what people say about me. He’s smart. He’s funny. His writing is pretty decent. He’s a good brother. An honest, diligent worker. Bad things also slip in; I’m not as good as people think. I’m judgmental, indifferent, grouchy. And much more, much worse, to my discredit.
Were anything to be written on my tombstone, I’d currently like it to read, “He refused to accept many things about himself and the world and suffered greatly for it, but he endeavored because he knew no other way to live.” These words resonate with me because they are beautiful and tragic and true.
Beautiful because they speak of perseverance. Of determination and finding a way. Of loyalty. All good things.But the phrase also contains darkness. Pain. Confusion and its cousin ignorance. The things denied were not all wrongs. How I lived was how I ended.
When it comes to endings, I’ve always thought that happy ones are fine, tragic ones are better, and tragic ends that cradled hope are the best. Tragedy illuminates truth, elicits questions no one thought or wanted to ask. It forces us from complacency and our stupor to examine the world, ourselves, those around us, and how we all relate.
Our choices will define us. Others will too. And the mark we leave will not meet any of our expectations.
Take that as you will. I have my own path, my own wish. To leave something worth remembering. To be something worth remembering—something more than vague notions, more than my names, more than scars. That despite everything, I held on to that ylem of hope.
Perhaps more than anything, that is how I most hope to be remembered.