Music, Identity and What’s Left Behind

I’ve found myself reading a lot of obituaries lately. Not because I have a lot of dying friends and relatives. Nope. The obituaries I’m reading are for people I’ve never met. Complete strangers. I can’t tell you why I’m reading them exactly. I suppose I could come up with all sorts or reasons, but I prefer to think that in my advancing years I’ve come to  appreciate people more fully as individuals. And so it seems that with nearly every obituary I read, I end up wondering a bit about that person. What sort of friend would they have been? Would they have been interesting? Made me smile and laugh? Taught me something? Pissed me off? I wonder these things because I don’t know. But I think I would have liked to.

Anyway, I’ve noticed something else in all my obituary reading. It turns out that, even in the end (or perhaps especially at the end), it’s other people who define who you are. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, our identities don’t belong to us. And unless you’re writing an autobiography or making a film about yourself, other people are going to define your legacy. It’s as if your history doesn’t belong to you as much as it belongs to those you leave behind.

But what does a person leave behind? I like to think of a person’s identity as a sort of music that continues to play in the background of other people’s life. Is that music soft and mellow, barely noticeable and of minor consequence? Is it loud and driven? Or peaceful and comforting? Does it inspire? Or sadden?

Background music is important. It sets the mood. It’s not inconsequential. It’s of, but not in, the moment. James Q. Wilson wrote, “A good character is not life lived according to a rule … it is a life lived in balance.” Achieving balance is a poetic exercise, a matter of striking the different notes harmonically. When the background music of your life is in harmony, your identity is in balance and remembered. And carried over into other lives.

One of the things I admire about Ceara Lynch is that she seems to have found that harmony, that balance. Her background music is sincere, natural, and eloquent. It informs her work in a barely perceptible but consequential way. It’s still early days for Ceara Lynch; her legacy is just beginning to take shape. But I think, at the end, when the music of her life is replayed, the rock and roll sounds of her humiliatrix persona will have played out; and the simple and sweet background music that is her balance will continue to be heard in the minds of those left behind.

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