This afternoon, two of my friends and I walked from Campus to a local coffee shop to buy milkshakes because 1. We’re in College, and we do what we want, and 2. Milkshakes are literally delicious. On our way back to campus, we took a little detour through the neighborhood cemetery. What an incredibly sobering moment it was.
This walk from Campus and back, through the cemetery, on this brisk autumn afternoon did two things for me. First, it helped me clear my mind. It’s been a long past few weeks, and the next few weeks aren’t looking much better. This is my second-to-last semester, and it seems to be a sprint to the finish. There are a million papers I’m in the middle of doing research for, and there’s not enough time to synthesize all this information. But I’m doing my best. Taking the walk this afternoon helped focus my thoughts on what’s really important; it helped focus my thoughts on the One who gives life and takes it away. I wasn’t thinking about school, or what I’m going to do after I graduate. I was focused purely on God, the creator, and all of his splendor. And it was beautiful. And I came back to campus refreshed and ready to work.
Second, I started thinking about my own mortality, not in a morbid way, but in a “What Will My Legacy Be?” sort of way. I started wondering if what I do with my life will really matter 25, 50, or even 100 years from now. I started wondering about the people buried in this cemetery, who they were, what their stories were, how they ended up here, in this cemetery near my college. Because at one point, everybody—from newborns to those who were 100 years old—were alive; they were loved. They were somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, child, and friend. And one day, I will be just like them. One day, my family will put flowers on my grave on special occasions, like those tombstones from the last 25 years. And one day, they will stop. I will be forgotten, like those 150 year-old tombstones.
On the timeline of the universe, my time on earth is incomputable and small. My finite life can fill the infinity of the universe infinity times. And I have the audacity to be freaking out about my future? Yes. I do. I doubt I’ll ever be one of those important figures in history, those people who are learned about in school 200 years after they died. But that doesn’t mean my legacy isn’t important, because it’s taken me a long time to learn this, but what I have to offer this world is important. I have mass, and I take up space. Therefore, I matter.
People may forget me 150 years from now, but the universe won’t. Physicists have this law, known as the “Law of Conservation and Energy.” It states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just transferred from one form to another. I may be gone, but my energy is not. I like to believe that people absorb little pieces of energy from those around them. As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like my parents, and I like to believe that it’s a transfer of energy in the form of personality. And maybe one day, my children will be like me. A transfer of energy from one generation to the next.
Physicists have also discovered that there are rays of light called photons that can pass through objects as they are drawn into the ground. I like to believe that all these particles that have bounced off my face, traveled through me, on their way have had their paths forever changed because they came in contact with me. I like to believe that at one point, the same photons that passed through George Washington have come in contact with me, a touch of legacy 300 years in the making. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.
Energy is given off as heat, and I want people to be warmed by my presence so that even after I’m gone, they’ll feel warmth whenever they think about me. I don’t need to have faith to believe any of this, because scientists have tested these laws over, and over, and over again. They have measured precisely the conservation of energy, and they have found it accurate and consistent across space and time. And I find that comforting. Because 150 years from now, my existence may be forgotten by many people. But the universe will not have forgotten me. My energy will be vibrating and reverberating throughout the universe.
So I walk through graveyards, trying to absorb the energy of those who’ve walked before.