Find someone wise (alive or someone who has passed on), read or watch a film on their life, and identify how their life can guide your decisions and actions.
Today, you would have been 100 years old. This is to say I miss you.
Not that I can miss you, technically. You died almost 30 years before I was born. But I’ve heard stories about you. And I have thought about you a lot.
They told me that no-one was as funny as you. The centre of attention at every party. They said that the mood in the room changed as soon as you walked in the door, it brightened, they all knew you would tell a joke or a story. No-one had as much gravitas, according to my mother — and she should know, she’s been a head-master!
You know that nickname you gave her? You gave everyone a nickname, I know, but the one you gave her? She still uses it. It’s her Wordfeud nickname. My kids, on the other hand, if they need a nickname when they grow up, won’t have any funny “names dad used to call us” to choose from. I haven’t been wise enough to find a nickname for them.
For this is also wisdom: social intelligence. (Is it a law of nature that from the generational apex, things must necessarily get worse? You were more social intelligent than your daughter, she is more socially intelligent than me — does that mean that my kids will be social morons, or am I the nadir of the pendulum, and things can only get better from here?)
I have a few scanned pictures of you on my computer, and sometimes I catch myself looking at those pictures and thinking about who you really were. When you were born, you had three older siblings, all with two first names. Your mother had given birth to two or three boys who died as infants before you — they were all named Erik, as were you. You were weak and sick, born with rickets, and I can imagine your mother sighing as you were baptised at home and given the same name as those who died. Erik. She couldn’t have had much hope.
But you made it. As the sickliest of all the five siblings, and the only one with one first name.
Sometimes, a drawback can be turned into something positive. You couldn’t compete when it came to physical strength, but you made up for that by being funny and smart. That is also wisdom.
Sometimes, when I look at your picture, I catch myself wishing you had lived long enough to see me. To hear me brag about how fast I can run, or to see me climb the highest tree, to witness first hand a bee-stinging my shoulder, to hear me sing “Eye of the Tiger” as a five-year old, to tell me about your life and let me tell you about mine. And I feel, at least I did when I was a child, sorrow — not the huge, wailing, crying kind of sorrow, but the silent, confusing one, where you miss without knowing that you miss and you’re sad without knowing why you should be.
You got married 70 days before your 30th birthday with a woman three years younger than you. I got married one day after my 30th birthday with a woman three years younger than me. I have two boys, soon three. You had two boys — and then a girl. My mother.
You didn’t live to see her reach double digits. You died in 1961, 47 years old. All of your siblings with two first names lived past their 75th birthday. It was cancer, and when they said it was because of smoking, you stopped instantly. But it was too little, too late.
I never knew you. My mother hardly knew the person you were, she was only nine when you died. My brothers, my cousins — all of us, your nine grandchildren and soon eight great-grandchildren, we never met you. And yet you still mean something to us.
When I try to imagine who you were, and what kind of granddad you would have been to me, I always envision you as someone who knows what it’s like to be young. Someone who can side with me against my parents, who has been through a lot — someone made wise by his life. It is an illusion, you were not even done being a parent when you died, but this is who you will be to me. This is how you’ll continue to be here.
I’ll show my children a picture of you and tell them all about you and tell them I miss you. And when they ask how that’s possible, I’ll tell them about you life, that you were sick, that you died too early — and that despite all that, you managed to mean so much to those around you that you are still remembered. And will be.
Memento mori. Memorate mortuos. Memorate vivere.
Tonight I’ll raise a toast in your honour. Tonight I’ll call my mother. We’ll play Wordfeud. Tonight I’ll find nicknames for my entire family.