My wife’s grandfather died last night. With 13 children, nearly 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Karl Nelson lived long enough to see five generations of his lineage into the world. But perhaps Karl’s legacy is that quantity does not always equal quality. Simply living a long time and having a lot of children does not automatically create joy and happiness.

My own death terror began at age nine, realizing that one day I would be dead and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. This is the fundamental motivator in my life. Irving Yalom writes in Staring into the Sun that one way to alleviate death terror is to create “ripples” of effect in other’s lives. This rippling extends the impact of one’s life into many, giving one person’s existence life beyond their own mortality. There are two sides to this effect, and as much as Yalom clings to his work in psychiatry, there are others who will live on because of their negative effects on others. My children will not know they have a toxic biological grandmother because they will never meet her. Their true grandmother will be my father’s second wife; this is the woman who has been my mother for over 20 years.

I make these choices because living is about choosing quality over quantity. I am 33 and have no children. My wife and I may one day have a child, or children, but each year we choose not to is not an empty year. We love one another, love spending our time with each other, working towards our common goals, and hopefully touching other’s lives in positive ways. We try and be conscious of our behavior and actions, understanding that modeling speaks louder than words. I might carry a fury of anger inside me, but I don’t unleash it upon the innocent. (Woe is the driver who makes a turn without looking to see if a cyclist, me, has right-of-way.)

There is simply no excuse for being a prick. Social policies that seek to legislate hate, inequality, bigotry, and classism are reflections of diseased minds. Systemic poverty is maintained by elitists who benefit from the labor of the poor, and the duped suckers who believe that the idealistic American Dream is just within their grasp. We live in a pluralist world. Many races, many religions, many lifestyle choices. The ideology of separatism, inequality, and oppression is a cancer and those who promote those ideas must be swept aside by progress towards proper civilization.

Be aware of the kind of life you lead. Every action has an effect, especially the things done when you think no one is looking. Take a moment to think that this could be your only, infinitesimally small time on earth. Do you want every mile to be run in pain or in joy? Every revolution of the crank to be a grunt in frustration or in gratitude that you have legs that move? Fight against the ocean or learn to love buoyancy and feel the movement of the liquid earth?

I am an unabashed, proud, radical atheist. I am grateful for every second I am alive and conscious, able to move, breathe, and love. My disbelief in a god does not preclude me from being in awe of the beauty of humanity and the universe. Quiet the opposite – it is knowing that this state of awe is a very real human emotion accessible to us all that makes me love a universe without a god.

Because it is real.

Notes: 1hr, 17 miles. New wheels feel heavier but smoother. Made it up to 23 mph with a tailwind, so that felt nice.


4 responses to “Legacy.

  1. Christ I wish I could take credit for you.

  2. Interesting about the “ripples.” I’ve often said that my greatest fear was to die without leaving a trace. Too often, obits describe a life where nothing happened. They lived, they died, no one cared. But when you impact even one someone’s life, it’s like dropping a stone into a pool… and your impact affects someone or something else, which spreads the ripple. Maybe that’s one of the things that impels people to procreate: the desire to impact at least one other life. And to bend twigs when they’re little to try to see what kind of trees they grow into.
    And ultimately, at the end, to be able to look back on your life and smile about the high quality, positive ripples you’ve created.

  3. To extend that metaphor, I consider my job as a parent to be the systematic construction of the largest, most turbulent pebbles possible.

    Max, you have met my son. How’m I doin’? ;D

  4. The problem created by the society you describe — the one of systematic poverty and divisiveness — is that it can be really damned difficult to acknowledge, and appreciate, the ripples one is making when there are a bunch of drunken, preppie gits blasting around in the pond on their Jetskis occasionally pureeing the swimmers.

    It takes a very positive, almost Zenlike attitude — something I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to cultivate — to be content and smile about the ripples rather than whipping a rock at the head of one of life’s Jetski jerks.

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