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Monday, October 18, 2021

Two stories remembered

In literature, many narratives begin with the incident of a protagonist suffering a loss, then battling back against all odds to build lasting legacies. Based upon the events of the past few days, these narratives could have been easily suggestive of two real-life personalities.

For Robert Mondavi, it was his ceding the family business to his brother, then later elevating his wine company into one of the world’s premier producers. For Senator Ted Kennedy, despite losing two brothers to assassinations, he so tirelessly performed legislative work that he has become the most accomplished senator in recent history. For both, the commonalities that unite their stories are ultimately similar: death and brushes with death.

There is something fleeting about the abrupt manner death occurs. Without warning, it steals something dear away from us, instantly enveloping around us a sense of disbelief and denial. Our ordered lives are suddenly ravaged by turmoil, a chaos that disturbs our perception of place and time relative to the world. Now marred by confusion, the previous certitude we tightly held now lies in tatters.

In turn, we are forced and kindled to react with urgency. We search for work and do so because we don’t want to deal with the mortifying feelings of death. We desire normalcy.

With the passing of time, we start to see things anew. The recognition that life is never going to be the same anymore – after an irreversible loss – dawns. We move on, the shock and fear ebbing away.

But death and the forces beyond our control pale in comparison to the forces that are within our control. The beauty of life lies not in the tasks that we cannot do, but the endeavors we can accomplish. Against the corruption and ills and errors of mankind and nature, we command the strength to right the wrongs and summon the hope to solve the unsolvable.

We are not arbiters of morality or legislators over the lives of others, but through outreach we abandon the impulse to confine ourselves. Instead, we reach deeply within our mind and rejoice in sharing the powerful idealism of imagination because we want to inspire others.

We are doing this for something larger than ourselves. It is for our principles. It is the ideals we stand up for, the resilience we muster to achieve our goals because we believe we can create a better world. We believe that through strides, we can improve the lives of those close to and far from us. So, when our principles are challenged, we do not yield, but we resist in defiance.

And we touch others in ways we might not realize – that compromise we agreed on after a monumental quarrel, our article about the imperiled environment that provoked engagement, the advice we offered that helped a peer graduate within four years, that Brahms piece we played in harmony that had the audiences hollering for encores – all these achieved against the forces of mortality.

Sometimes, in the blurry quest for material wealth and social status, we forget that life is at times meant simply to be lived as it can be lived. Our fixation with what we want prevents us from realizing that there is a society and community we’re connected to, shrouding our temperance and clouding our judgment. We lose focus. Death brings us back to reality.

So, in death, like in life, we are touching something that is essentially human: the celebration of unpredictability. When a death occurs, our innermost senses are poignantly alerted, a reminder that in the daily grind of life, there are the special moments – the simple pleasures, the laughter of a loved one – we should appreciate.

In death, what seemed present just a moment ago is no longer real to us.

But we remember. Memories are etched, lived and re-lived.

For Mr. Mondavi and Senator Kennedy, we are not just applauding the larger-than-life personas that they were (and are), but we are acknowledging the service they performed with absolute distinction and humility. In a way, they wrote, and are writing, real human stories. For the very human qualities they displayed, their stories will live longer than literature.

 

ZACH HAN believes in the longevity of their stories. Agree with him at zklhan@ucdavis.edu.XXX

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