In the Broadway version of The Lion King, a primary idea is that those who have mattered in our lives never completely leave.
Simba, a little lion, grows as heir to the kingdom of Mufasa, the lion king before him.
Elton John wrote the show’s signature song, The Circle of Life. 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 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 father’s 100th birthday. Her father died 15 years ago. Still, a hundred years. That’s a long, long time, 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.
These long stretches of time … a hundred years, 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 bad behavior of children and grandchildren.
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, those century-and-longer frames multiplied those moments of awareness a billion times over in experience, the learning that comes 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 our own.
One hundred twelve years. Poof.
But 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. You and I know that, but knowing that by itself isn’t enough. 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 pursue and worry about may be the wrong things not worth the waste of short time.
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.
Seriously, do we really have time to waste, living for our selves and the small circle around the idea of “me?”
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.
Cumulatively, we will matter to them. We will always be there. The question is, what kind of record do we leave, because whatever it is can’t be unwritten. We will, for better or worse, always be there.