Today I am pondering “Random Renaissance Person.” You can ponder with me.
Let me first explain that Random Renaissance Person is just that: any random person who lived during the Renaissance period (almost any other period will also work, too, if you happen to have some aversion to pondering people from the Renaissance). Simply imagine a single person who could have lived during that time period. Make the person as average as possible – no kings or queens or dignitaries. Just your average Renaissance villager person.
It’s best not to give Random Renaissance Person a name – we don’t want to get too close to them – but you can imagine things like their work and family situation. Go ahead and I magine all of the events in Random Renaissance Person’s life: being born, interacting with family, working in the garden, being educated, attending religious ceremonies, hanging out with friends, having a first kiss, playing sports, etc. Most people didn’t have a very long lifespan during that time so maybe Random Renaissance Person was stricken with disease or experienced complications in childbirth or was injured in battle. Feel free to design their story.
Of course, there were no photographers at this time, so we can never know what Random Renaissance Person looked like. It’s doubtful they had their portrait painted or if one would have even survived to now. There is a very good chance that nothing at all exists to document that Random Renaissance Person ever even lived. But we know they did and we know that millions just like them have lived all over the Earth since the beginning of time.
We can imagine Random Renaissance Person, lived a full life just like you and I. Every moment of their life consisted of experiencing life events the same way you and I do. Some of those events were minor incidents. Many were major milestones. But to Random Renaissance Person, all were the content of their life and whether they were experiencing seasonal sniffles or adopting a dog or watching a parent die, these were the things that Random Renaissance Person called their life. The struggles and triumphs that shaped who they knew themselves to be. Again, just like you and I.
Now fast forward to the contemporary time you and I are currently living. Look around your household or work environment or just your life in general. In what way is your life affected by the life of Random Renaissance Person? Can you find one single thing anywhere in your surroundings that would have been impacted by the existence of Random Renaissance Person?
Consider that all of those monumental life events that meant everything to Random Renaissance Person are now completely gone. Literally, as if they never happened. The events that kept Random Renaissance Person awake at night with anxiety or that they anticipated with excitement for weeks are now nowhere to be found. In fact, our good friend Random Renaissance Person also has no existence, nor is there proof they ever did. We can imagine Random Renaissance Person may have had children, who had children, who had children, whose descendants may have somehow affected us. Quite possible. But when we look only at the personal life of Random Renaissance Person, it makes little difference to our world whether they lived or not.
It’s fascinating. An entire life rendered completely useless by time and distance. It’s easy to convince ourselves this is bound to happen to people who lived so long ago but have you ever found yourself wandering in an antique shop and found a stack of photos of random, unknown people? People and families from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, sometimes doing seemingly important things – graduating, marrying, opening Christmas presents, enjoying dinners – now completely unknown, unidentified and unimportant.
Of course, this will never happen to you or I, our lives are way too important and we’ve participated in far too many memorable life events for those things to just disappear. Our thoughts, opinions and beliefs are not only vital to us but also of great significance to humanity. Not to mention, we have many friends and family members who will remember us and all of the important things in our lives for eternity. We’ll never be forgotten like those other people. Right?
The world of form is not as significant as we try to convince ourselves it is. It never has been. It doesn’t have any permanence to it. We try to hang on to this identity in our changing, disposable bodies and pretend we are as important as we believe we are. One day these bodies and all we consider important will fade away faster than a stream of smoke, just like the life of Random Renaissance Person did. What’s left when it’s all gone? Does everything just dissolve and go back to the Earth or can it be that there is actually some sort of permanence behind appearances? Something that remains when all appearances change and pass away? Does it make sense to actually “be” at one point in this life and then “not be” at another point? Is “being” so disposable and finite?