We’re all going to die, so what are we doing now that actually matters in the long run? This is a big question which we usually like to skip by in our day to day living. It’s so vast and unanswerable that we fear getting stuck in something we can never really know. But this precisely that makes it so easy to explore and get meaningful results from.

I mean, anything beyond the scale of our human lifetime is such an unknown that it’s really not hard to know just a little bit more than we do now. We don’t have to have exact answers for every possible scenario to have a noticeably clearer view of what is already very fuzzy, right?

waybackIn trying to find my own answer, the idea struck me that I should search for my counterpart in different time periods and see if I could find him. How did he live? What did he do that might matter to me now? Who can I find in the historical records of 100, 500, or 1000 years ago that I truly identify with? Someone that I can look at and say “If I was born then, this is the kind of life I would have lived.”

Here’s me:

  • Born in Napa, California
  • N0w a healthy, 39 year-old man
  • Values family but will never have children of his own
  • Pays attention to things and is curious about the world around him
  • Isn’t afraid of hard work but prefers to work smarter than harder whenever possible
  • Enjoys loving big and laughing hard, and will stand up and do the right thing on behalf of those who cannot.

Now it’s time to set The WABAC Machine, Sherman…

  • 100 years ago it was 1915.
    The Great War was on (it would later be known as “World War I”). I would have been too old to be called in the first two rounds of the draft, but could have easily been pulled for the third round as an single, able-bodied, 42-year old in 1918. If even I made it through that, I would have come home to a Great Flu Pandemic. Odds are that I would have died by age 42. What would I have done before then? Much to my surprise, I could find no records of anyone like me from that time…
  • 500 years ago it was 1515.
    No white man had yet come to my part of the world. I would’ve been an indigenous Nappan (for whom Napa is named), probably someone who hunted the local elk & deer, and fished here in the valley. I’d have to watch out for grizzlies and cougars, whose paths I would likely know well locally, and keep an eye out for if I had the occasion to wander outside of the valley and trade with others. Any great deeds or anything else I contributed to the world most certainly might have made it into the verbal history, but would certainly have been lost when the Spanish arrived and attacked/enslaved my village in 1823. Bust.
  • 1000 years ago it was 1015.
    There’s little we know about the natives in Napa at that time, other than that they were here. There’s little detail that we have about anyone on the earth at that time, unless they were royalty — which I am not. No matter what I did or failed to do, I as individual ultimately would not have mattered in any way that is detectible to the me living here in 2015. No matter who I pleased or disappointed, saved or killed, invented or destroyed, the me looking back a thousand years later just can’t tell. I would have no way of knowing what the dude’s name even was.

So what am I doing that will make a difference to the world I leave behind in 100-years, 500-years, or 1000-years? Nothing. Of course it’s not possible to know this absolutely, but judging by history I think it’s safe to say that I won’t matter in any personally-identifiable way to someone like me who is born after I die.

Y’know? I’m okay with that.

In fact, I feel lighter when I am relieved of the burden of mattering to the generations that follow. They don’t need to know my name, or how I lived. It is enough that I matter now to those who are living now, and if anything, I should strive to align my impact on the planet and resource utilization to this same scale.

How about you?