The second time you die

There is a Jewish saying that goes something like you die twice – the second time you die is when your name isn’t spoken anymore. In other words, when the last person who knew who you were passes on, your name will die with them.

This saying shows how short a time we are on this earth. So, we better make the best of it. I have long told my children what I learned. Your name is the most important asset you have. When people hear your name, what do you want them to think?

Would it be she was a real a person? He would give the shirt off his back. Or, would it be, I never trusted him. She was selfish and mean-spirited. Knowing we cannot please everyone, we can strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can endeavor to be kind, fair, honest, hardworking, etc. and when we fall short, we can acknowledge that we have and make amends.

Even if we are not effusive or outgoing, we can still represent ourselves well. More often, it is the folks who do not draw attention to themselves that do the heavy lifting and show up everyday on time. As I have been around the block a few times, I have observed that a person’s true value is often uncorrelated with how much they beat on their chests. The louder the false bravado, the more dubious I become about the boasting.

My step-grandfather was the only grandfather I really knew. My mother’s mother divorced her first husband as he was a “rolling stone” as The Temptations used to sing about. Ironically, my blood line grandfather’s brother, was one of the finest of men and he and my step-grandfather would fish together. Neither of these fishermen were boastful. They were hard working men, who spoke little, but when they spoke, you listened.*

I remember my step-grandfather as he was a very generous and genteel man. He was a builder, a master bricklayer which left his hands quite rough. Fishermen and women know that you need to be careful handling catfish, as their fins can slice your hands. My grandfather’s hands were so rough, he could simply grab a catfish, unhook it and throw it into the bin. I also recall a day when five us caught about one hundred fifty fish. My grandfather caught over half of them but he never said a word as he would reel them in.

False bravado is not a term one would use to define my step-grandfather. But, he is remembered well. And, he is remembered in the manner in which I would like to be.

*Note: My bloodline grandfather’s brother married one of my grandmother’s older sisters. So, two brothers married two sisters. Yet, the irony of my grandmother’s second husband being a fishing buddy of the brother of her first husband is interesting. The other less ironic note, is both sisters were gregarious characters, who married and settled down with quiet men.

21 thoughts on “The second time you die

  1. I so enjoyed this post! I cannot help but think of something I read several years ago that was found in the delightful blog “A Teacher’s Reflections” by Jennie Fitzkee. Jennie wrote : “Stories are the keepers of words and memories.” Isn’t that so true? Please forgive my quotatiousness but I simply must add a similar Jewish saying from Bettine Le Bleau (1932-2015) : “People often die twice. The first time is when they stop breathing, the second is when they are forgotten.” You may know that Bettine was a child survivor of the Holocaust and after later becoming an actress was also one of the “Bond Girls”…though she had many other accomplishments as well. Thank-you!

    • Ellen, many thanks. Thanks also for the vignettes. I love the purpose of story telling. I was also unaware of the Bond actress and her significant challenges. The way she said the quote is more succinct. Take care, Keith

  2. It’s a small world. At least it appears hearing about the relationships of your grandparents. Awesome! Regarding your message, I like to ask people who don’t know where to go in life: “What do you want to have written in your bio?” No one wants to be forgotten or in mag memory. But not everyone does something to achieve it. It doesn’t even matter what it is (being a loving spouse, parent, grandparent, artist, inventor,..). It only needs to come from within and needs to be shared with all the heart.

  3. Note to Readers: To me, there could be no better way for grandchildren to connect with their grandparents than to record an interview. This will help the family tree come alive. As an example, one of my grandmother’s older brothers was named after the doctor who would come to their village once a month, and would accompany her mother who was a community health care provider, a nurse practitioner of some sorts.

  4. Wow, I am Jewish but never heard that phrase. However, I was taken from my “ancestral” home when I was 9 and with that move, off went my religious instruction. Had we stuck around Chicago, I probably would have eventually heard it. Nonetheless, good points in your post!! I have worried about my image, for lack of a better term, in the last several years. Stressed out completely by the would-be dictator who is still causing problems for our country, then an awful job, then the pandemic. In other words, it’s been quite hard to maintain any sort of positive thinking and acting!! However, I feel like I’m finally coming out of it and can be my more jovial self. I remember feeling utter relief on January 20th!! Oh hey, my father’s family also had brothers/sisters marrying each other. I had to look it up. My grandparents were Louis and Adele. Louis’s sister married Adele’s brother 🙂

    • Toby, many thanks. It has been interesting times. As for the brother and sister marriages across families, when you go deeper into, you find a lot of second cousins marrying. To me, this was the clan’s social group, so it would likely have been hard to meet new folks. Keith

      • oh, I didn’t think of that aspect. that could have happened in my family too although I’m not sure when this set of grandparents came to the U.S. or if they were already married before they left Romania. So hard to know if they didn’t know a lot of people either in Romania or Chicago.

      • Toby, I saw a lot of it in the 1800s and before, even in the US. Another thing you see is the impact of the Civil War and a yellow fever epidemic. That might have been two more reasons for cousins marrying and more siblings marrying other pairs of siblings. Keith

    • Alison, many thanks. I agree. People say they don’t care what other people think, but the really do. So, the best we can do is control our end of the equation and be the best person we can. Keith

  5. My partner and I often go for walks in a nearby cemetery, and we sometimes read out loud the names on the tombstones. I have heard a saying, “To speak the names of the dead is to make them live again.” Goes right along with your Jewish saying, and might even be Jewish, too, I have no idea. But I like the thought.

    • Peg, thanks for sharing your walking regimen. I think it is nice to repeat their names and, maybe it is a Jewish saying. You may find this amusing, but when I worked downtown, on a nice day I would grab a sandwich and sit in a park or this nice cemetery with shady trees and benches. It was adjacent to a church and took up about 2/3 of a city block. I loved the meandering, rounded paths to walk and look at the tombstones. And, as you did, I would find one to study to see how old they became, their name, etc. Thanks for the memories, yours and mine. Keith

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