I’ve been spending way too much time on Facebook recently. After moving in to a new house two weeks before work starts, I find myself scrolling to the most distant reaches of the Wall to see if anything interesting pops up. What I found a couple days ago surprised me. Two people I went to high school with died in the span of a week.
The Facebook community can be pretty creative sometimes. After the death of these two students, loved ones turned the profiles of the deceased into memorials, cataloging all of the fond memories everyone had for the two.
Every one of these comments was positive, pointing to some unique and good quality of the deceased. I didn’t know these people incredibly well, but my cynicism got the better of me and I couldn’t help but note that I didn’t remember them in as positive of a light as what the Facebook wall showed. Many will ask, “why is that a bad thing?” Certainly, when a person dies the gravity of the event should be balanced out by the good times we can all remember. No one wants to be made more depressed at a funeral. Or maybe their death purifies them of all the wrong things they’ve done in their past.
The title of this entry comes from the Ender’s Game series, where the main character, Ender Wiggin, destroys an entire sentient species, then publishes a document in the species’ own voice, signing his name as Speaker for the Dead. Orson Scott Card, the author of the series, explains how the idea for a Speaker for the Dead came about: “…I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that…we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.
I rejected that idea. I thought that a more appropriate funeral would be to say, honestly, what that person was and what that person did. But to me, “honesty” doesn’t mean simply saying all the unpleasant things instead of saying only the nice ones. It doesn’t even consist of averaging them out. No, to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story — what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That’s the story that we never know, the story that we never can know — and yet, at the time of death, it’s the only story truly worth telling.”
One thought keeps popping into my head when I think about this concept — is this at all like what judgment truly is? Should this be the right of any person, to lay bare a person’s life (after they’ve given permission)? Then I think, who has the right to edit a person’s life either by only telling others the good intentions and the good outcomes?
I don’t have any smart conclusion for this entry. Just questions that I hope can be answered.