It turned out that as many as half those ducks were probably not the same individuals we had seen before. Wild ducks have a lifespan of 7-9 years, but in practice, more than half die before the age of 2. They suffer accidents, catch diseases, or get eaten by coyotes, raccoons, and other predators.
Golden Gate Park is not exactly wilderness, but still, many of last year’s flock must have perished. Or did they? There they were, looking and acting exactly like they looked last year and probably every year since the Park was built. To everyone who comes by, they are still alive, so who died?
Feeling it might be species prejudice to discount the death of waterfowl, I tried to put myself in the place of the redwood trees growing across the path. I imagined them looking down every few years and wondering, “Are these the same people who were here before?”
We probably looked very similar and acted similarly (holding hands, laughing, talking amateur philosophy,) but Aisha and I didn’t start coming to this lake until the last few years. Thirty years from now, we won’t be here either, but somebody indistinguishable from us (to a tree or a duck, at least) will take our place. So even if our bodies have come to an end, are we really gone?
I’m still wondering. My friend Jeremy says his two-year-old nephew Jimmy is his great-grandfather’s reincarnation. “You look at Grandpa’s childhood pictures, and they look like Jimmy. Even at two years old, they posed the same way. My mother says Jimmy says silly things like Grandpa, makes faces like Grandpa, stomps off when he doesn’t get his way…like Grandpa did.”
Or as Amy Tan wrote, “[Mothers and daughters] are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.” I think most families can point to someone who greatly resembles an ancestor, much as this year’s ducks resemble the crop of five years ago.
But even outside of families, don’t familiar types come along repeatedly? In every generation, there are writers, fighters, teachers, drunks, actresses, laborers, handymen. There are depressed people, crazy people, caring people, creative people, funny people.
So what really dies and what endures? Last week, I was listening to a Bob Marley song on YouTube. In the comments section, people were lamenting Marley’s death at age 36, saying what a great loss it was.
Then someone had posted this message: “Marley isn’t dead. Just push ‘play.’”
Wasn’t that commenter right? What was most important to millions of people about Marley – his music and the inspiration it provides – is alive. In his music, he will outlive everyone reading this blog. True, his family and others who knew him personally experienced a loss when his body died. But even they still have their memories, and whatever wisdom he passed down, as well as his music.
What about those of us who are not artists? Do we endure like Marley does? Well, we all touch others: family, friends, colleagues, sometimes strangers. Don’t the things we do, the things we are, our beliefs and ideas live on through them?