I am at an age where almost every day some famous person in my general age range dies. Since I partake of a fair amount of news, I see and hear about it.
So of course, I think some about dying. About the ethical and technical aspects of it. What I’m leaving behind for other people to clean up.
Some factors suggest I will live a long time. Some factors say I won’t. I’ll never know until time. However, every day realistically might be my last. (As is the case with all of life.) Or I might have thousands more days to go. How should I proceed from here, knowing these things?
I like to work. I like to make things, fix things, invent things, try things out. I make things out of wood, steel, aluminum, and plastic. And brass. I shape dirt and rock.
There is a lot to fix on a smallholding. Mowers and trucks, buildings and fences, trailers and tractors. More mowers. Plus some other, different mowers. Another tractor. Another building. There is always something to fix.
There is also always something which I think I can make a little better if I just make this or that, or reshape or change this or that. I can’t lift as much weight as I once could, and when I come close to it I hurt for days, so to whatever extent I can let leverage, planning, and minor mechanical inventions take the place of lifting and carrying, I’m going to do that.
One could make a case that the human urge to invent is based in laziness and hedonism: We invent stuff so we can be more comfortable and not have to work so hard.
Plus I have meadows to mow, a creek to tend, land to keep and cherish.
So I work.
Which is good. Work is what I do. Work, read, write, teach, and Tweet. And sleep. No TV. I wouldn’t have time for it. I work, and I rest.
And in the course of all this work, I tend to leave stuff out of place. Buy twenty bolts, use 11, leaving the other 9 in a plastic bag somewhere where it will be in my way for ten or fifteen years until I decide where it belongs instead and put it there. Odds and ends. Not tools, tools get put away, but – detritus. “I might use this someday” parts. Broken tools that I might fix. I’m in too much of a hurry to fix one thing to fix the other thing, or to put away the last few parts from that other project. Times 30 years. Times 12 years in this place, but I still own the other mess too.
So if I died tomorrow, which would be more important to those left to pick up the pieces: The projects that I did get done, or the crap I left out of place in piles for them to sort through and put away before they can auction it off?
My question is harder than it might seem. Say it was something my wife asked me to fix. OK, what something? If it’s “The faucet won’t shut off,” I’d bet she’d rather have me fix it now even if that meant she had to put away the pipe wrench should I happen to not live long enough. Making it so her tractor will start rates up there as a pretty high priority, but it’s not like the faucet. Maybe I should clean up all the loose ends from the previous project before tackling whatever is wrong with the Big John.
Working faster than you can quite keep up with does have something to recommend it, but it’s not all good.
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” – William Shakespeare
Tired of my messes, I have spent considerable time the last couple of days cleaning up one small mess among many, my welding cart. I’m not done. And “cleaning up” in this and many other cases is synonymous with “Putting away the stuff that covers it 12 years deep.”
I won’t give you the details, but it’s harder than it looks. Decisions. Figuring out what something is. Stuff that you didn’t put away because it didn’t have an “away” and you have to think one up in a cluttered old farm shop, Figuring out how to keep “putting it away” from being “go through this again later.”
What has all this got to do with mortality?
Every day I decide, consciously or unconsciously, whether to put stuff away or do some new project. Every day I decide between doing for the moment, leaving my messes for those who come after me, or thinking of those people, the Next Ones, as active participants in the decision.
Why is the work I do important? Because I think it’s important. You could say the same thing for most of the work humans have ever done: at the moment somebody thought it was important. Build a fire in the cave. Put a man on the moon. Fix my broken mower, or maybe mow with it. People do what they think is worth doing.
I’m just doing whatever comes to mind. How critical is it that I get all this crap done, and leave piles of “I wonder what this is,” for those who come behind me, as compared to leaving things in reasonable usable order?
Perhaps the best thing I can possibly do for those who follow me on this earth is to leave as small a mess as possible.