12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done? 13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. 14 The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. 15 Then I thought in my heart, "The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?" I said in my heart, "This too is meaningless." 16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
There are moments of weakness when you wonder if fighting the flesh and being good is worth the discipline. At the end of the day and at the end of life will my discipline and self-denial and flesh-killing really set me apart. Will my life mean any more than the one who shoots from the hip and "eats, drinks and makes merry" with his or her life?
There is a good bit of energy expended each day not being naughty in thought, attitude and action. I've told my wife before that some days it feels like I use half my strength just fighting off temptation and enticing vices. The other part of my energy is used trying to be productive, but a good bit of it is used up in avoiding being destructive. It's exhausting and at times you wonder if it's worth it in the end.
But this author rushes to a conclusion that seems small-minded for the world's smartest man. He talks about how the fate of each is the same, death, so it doesn't matter what you do prior to that, you're both headed to the same place, the grave. He couples it with a theory he mentioned in the former chapter. I want to call it an assurance of "endless fame" and a fear of "being forgotten". I think his paranoia starts to set in that everything he has accumulated will be someone else's and he doesn't trust in the ability of man to "remember its origin". One of the reasons I think this thought vexed him is that he already "forgetting" its origin. God was the one who blessed him with wisdom and wealth and yet he speaks as though his good fortune and sharp intellect was of his own making. He knows how little he remembered his roots and he fears the same will be said or not said of him. This is the problem with shallow living is that you think everyone else is equally as shallow. If you gossip, you think everyone's talking about you. If you don't think about people when they're not around, you don't think anyone will think of you either.
But as you look around you, and don't obsess over being famous forever, but rather just invest in the friends and family God puts in your path, your life lives on. Generational goodness is something I've witnessed firsthand. A godly heritage is rare and when passed on, it provides a foundation that leaves a legacy. It does no good thinking your choices and values and habits and ambitions don't effect the next generation, because the Bible promises they do and life itself speaks of this domino effect and/or collateral damage. God talks of the sins of the former generation visiting the children to the 3rd and 4th generation and the wins of the former generation following the children to a 1000 generations. It may not be fame, but it is far from being "forgotten". People who are scared of being "forgotten" often are the same ones that want to make sure they are "known".
And the idea that he will be forgotten reveals a selfishness in Solomon that caused his manic depression. He wanted to control life in this world and as he passed on, he wanted to control it into the next. His lust for a guaranteed afterlife of fame and homage showed how he was over-thinking his own awesomeness. When you're haunted by these thoughts, you start thinking of holidays named after you, statues erected in your honor and your name being forged on historic edifices. You want to be remembered one way or another.
It can't believe how badly this guy wanted to be remembered after he died. The knowledge that he may be forgotten threw him into a tailspin of futility. Sure, both the fool and the wise die alike. But they don't die in the lives of the people around them if they are selflessly divesting themselves in their short life on earth. It has been said that the best form of flattery is plagiarism. A more positive way of saying it is that the best way to be remembered is to be emulated by those you influence. Your name might die, but your legacy will live on in the lives you've touched in significant or slight ways. True legacy isn't left by people obsessing over leaving it, true legacy is left by people thinking so little of themselves that they almost unknowingly transfer their life to those around them. Your life becomes re-incarnated in the next generation, so even if your name is forgotten, your life lives on.
The best way to be remembered when you die is to remember the power of each moment while you're alive.