For, just like the fool, there is no lasting remembrance of the wise, since in the days to come both will be forgotten. How is it that the wise person dies just like the fool? Therefore, I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me. For everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind.–Ecclesiastes 2:16-17
The grounds of Mt. Washington Cemetery are littered with stones. Maybe I shouldn’t say “littered,” since that suggests that the stones are placed randomly and without good purpose. Instead, you’ll see stones in (mostly) neat rows, all placed to mark the burial spot of somebody. Having spent three summers in my youth working on those grounds and then visiting it numerous times because of my family buried there, I’m quite familiar with those stones.
When you walk the area near my family’s plot, you’ll see several impressive structures. One, marked “Byrd,” looks like a miniature version of Athens’ Parthenon. Another, over the hill, seems like a good-sized Medieval church perched on a hillside. No one, seeing these two mausoleums (mausolea?) would doubt that the people interred there came from families with a huge amount of money. The Byrds were involved in a thriving retail business a hundred years back. The one over the hill belongs to William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star.
What we can’t tell by looking at these grave markers is the relative wisdom and foolishness of the people commemorated there. When we throw out the extraordinary burial sites, we’ll find thousands of slabs of granite and marble that all look remarkably similar. They’ll have names and dates etched onto them. Some are larger and some are smaller, but in the end they’re all pretty similar.
Walk along those grounds thoughtfully. A couple of notions might strike your mind. First, the vast majority of these people are as utterly anonymous as the vast majority of people you encounter at the grocery store. Second, you can tell even less about these people here than you can typically tell about the ones at the grocery.
Have you ever thought that you could distinguish the wise and the fool as you browse the canned-goods aisle? I have. I’m sure I can’t do it with 100% accuracy, but I have fair confidence in many of these determinations. On the other hand, the people under the headstones are pretty much leveled.
Nobody etches “Fool” or “Terrible Mother” or “Spendthrift” or “Lazy” or “Easily Deceived” on the headstone of their family. The markers of veterans rarely differentiate between the hero and the coward. Instead, in death, everyone is a “Beloved mother and grandmother” or a “PFC, US ARMY, WORLD WAR II.”
So here’s the bottom line. Unless your wisdom or foolishness exists far out on the edges of the bell curve, it’s not likely to be remembered after your funeral flowers wilt. The things that seem so important to us today, will seem exceptionally small down the road. So again, even wisdom, which the Bible repeatedly urges us to pursue, will become a futile thing in the end–at least “under the sun.”