Elton John got it right for The Lion King. That song, The Circle of Life, the idea of life as a circle, connecting everything, past, present and future, fuels the story on film and on stage. Those who have mattered in our lives never completely leave.
In the movie and play, Simba, a little lion, grows as heir to the kingdom of Mufasa, the lion king before him and draws strength from that circle.
The Circle of Life is a great song. But he says that another of the show’s songs, one he did not write, is one that truly moves him. He Lives in Us, inspires one to connect our moment and moments to the lives that frame and create backstory to our ever changing stages of life.
I thought of this a few minutes after my wife came to the realization that this morning would have been her late father’s 100th birthday. Think of what a hundred years is. That’s a long, long time of living, experiencing and doing, and yet a passage that has come and gone like nothing. It made me realize that my own grandfather would have been born 112 years ago. And it reminds me that although our lives matter to us, a hundred years from this moment, people’s lives will be a part of what we are now, even though they’ll have no feeling at all for what we do, or think or experience.
These long stretches of time … a hundred years, or a hundred and twelve … contained experience and learning that mattered, over and over and over again. They create an encyclopedic container for history. World wars. The economics of hardships that mattered for years on end, the experiences that weather faces and hands over time. The happy accidents that created friendships, loves, appreciation, tears of joy and sadnesses that mattered, newborn babies and first steps, first poops and falls and occasional celebrations or even bad behavior of children and grandchildren.
All of that has to matter, and it does.
For every moment you and I sit here where we now, feeling what we feel right now, waiting for the next thing that will take some time to be here, we are builders of what may be one day unappreciated but real and substantive.
The century-and-longer frames of our grandparents’ lives included billions of moments of real living,, learning that came with happy discovery and long hard lessons, and the grief that comes from connecting and losing people who have ended their stories in the midst of their own.
One hundred or a hundred twelve years. For the most part, on most days, for most of us, simply gone poof. But it has to matter more than that because this circle of life is real.
And two things occur to me.
One is the good news, if we choose to use it, that as in The Circle of Life and He Lives in Us, those years — the breath taken in and out at every moment of those many years, the billions of heartbeats, thousands of miles of flowing internal rivers of oxygen and blood, and all they enabled, give us ground to stand on, ground that still exists and matters. We don’t usually look down or back. We are free not to. But we’re not here by accident. Their century stories help us tell our own. They are still here, even if not bodily.
The other is that our time here will end. This is not depressing. It is what has to be. You and I know that, but knowing that by itself isn’t enough. We must make it all matter for people and conditions we will never know.
Knowing how quickly it will happen that our century will be something that soon someone else realizes in hindsight, as we have today, should be a reminder that what we often pursue and worry about may be the wrong things not worth the waste of short time. It could end tomorrow, and if that’s the case, what good is that cable TV upgrade you’ve been sold?
Among those wrong things is our collective refusal to ignore integrity and human dignity. Too many cling to the idea that as the world changes, they should not allow themselves to “be replaced,” as if a changing world could somehow be stopped and sealed in a preserved bottle of someone’s idea of what “us” is and must be.
We waste time honoring those who insult others for who they are, where they were born, the economics they were born into. We pretend to elevate moral values while practicing immoral action that hurts others, and we pretend that the idea of “morals” is too uncool for this century.
But seriously, do we really have time to waste, living for our selves and the small circle around the idea of “me?” Life is best lived, lived for the sake of others first.
The circle of life and the history of our planet will always be about others. Our time sets a frame and builds ground for others, as our grand parents as those before them set for us. If we have appreciation for how short this opportunity is, we ought to use it to build good for others – first.
You already know this. Every culture on the planet has its version of the Golden Rule … “Do to others only as you’d do to yourself.”
How else would you want your descendants think that you have lived your life? What we do now matters. A new iPhone doesn’t matter. A kind action will. A better car doesn’t matter – there will be others. Giving a friend a hand or learning of a relative’s need and doing something now, will matter.
In the end, we create a record that ought to matter even if we never get to read it ourselves. Cumulatively, we should matter to them, whoever they are. We will always be there. The question is, what kind of record do we leave, because there will be some record and whatever it is can’t be unwritten.
We will, for better or worse, always be there. Past, present and future, the value we add to this circle of life is completely up to us. And it’s important because we will matter to someone else’s lives, and we will always be there.