I am a fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and if you don’t know who they are, well . . . there isn’t much way I can explain it. But if I were going to try, I’d tell you they are a musical group whose performances are filled with lasers and lights and smoke and magic . . . and stories. So many wonderful stories. This is an affinity I share with my daughter and now with my oldest grandchild, Wilson. As a matter of fact, the December before the world was engulfed in COVID, at Wilson’s request the three of us attended one of their concerts in Memphis. He will never know what an accomplishment that was for him since I’m not fond of noise . . . or flashing lights . . . or crowds . . . all of which were a thing. But I loved every minute of it, mainly because of the company. And the music. The drive home, not so much.
One of their albums is entitled “Beethoven’s Last Night”. It was written as a rock opera telling the story of Ludwig van Beethoven’s last night on this earth, and his encounter with Mephistopheles who has come to collect his soul (spoiler alert, he doesn’t). As Beethoven despairs over the realization that he must spend eternity in torment, the devil offers him a deal. Give up his music . . . allow it to be destroyed—wiped from the memory of mankind—and his soul will be spared. And he has an hour to make his choice.
Mephistopheles disappears, leaving Beethoven agonizing over what course he should choose. It is then that he sings “What Is Eternal”. And within that song, you find the lyrics:
Each vision and dream now
To give one’s whole life
And find nothing’s
And what good is a life
That leaves nothing behind
Not a thought or a dream
That might echo in time . . .
And it is upon these words that I wish to focus.
Compared to the overall number of humans on the planet, very few of us realize in our youth what is required to make a monumental difference. And by the time we do . . . and perhaps wish that we could . . . we find it’s too late. There can only be one Mother Teresa, one Mahatma Gandhi. We can’t all be as famous or as recognizable as Oprah or as wealthy as Warren Buffet. And if we start comparing our lives and our accomplishments to theirs, we may perceive ourselves to be miserable failures, those who will leave nothing behind by which they might be remembered.
That was Beethoven’s greatest fear on his last night . . . and it may be ours as we see our time on this earth drawing to a close. Have we done enough? Did we try enough? Have we made enough of a difference? If my own longevity patterns itself after that of my parents, I might have ten more decent years, and I know how quickly those will fly. I could sit here and agonize over what kind of difference I’ve made in this world (and honestly, sometimes I do wonder), but then I look at my children and I see functional, independent human beings who are creative and thoughtful and trying to make the world a better place. And I look at my grandchildren and I know they’ll remember the Mona (that’s what I’m called . . . as in Mona Lisa . . .) who played Hide and Seek with them, and went down to the creek or hiking at Shiloh, who taught them what poison ivy looks like and introduced them to “Hall of the Mountain King”, things I hope one day to do with little Malcolm who, at age two, isn’t quite ready for all of that. But he does reach for my hand when he doesn’t trust himself to make it down the steps and wanders the house calling for me when he thinks I’m missing.
I suppose my point is that very few people in this world leave nothing behind. Very few of us will escape this mortal coil having given our whole life then finding that nothing’s remembered. We may not accumulate an abundance of fame or wealth, we may not be known to millions of people, but if we have touched the lives of our family and our friends, if we have made their worlds just the slightest bit better and taught them to do the same for others, then that should be—and is—enough.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.