Cliff's Edge

The Dying Orphan’s Fear

The dying orphan’s fear reflects something embedded deep in our souls about wanting to be remembered.

Clifford Goldstein

One of the most poignant scenes in a rather gruesome book (Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II, by Joseph Wheelan) was about a sailor dying from a kamikaze attack. Badly burned, he uttered to the navy corpsman trying to help him, “Doc, I’m an orphan. Who is going to remember me?” The corpsman said that he would remember him every day of his own life. Perhaps that kindly corpsman did, but what about when the corpsman died? Who will remember him then? 

However dramatic the background, the dying orphan’s fear reflects something embedded deep in our souls about wanting to be remembered. Yes, there are immortalized historical figures, but they are what among the billions of forgotten dead? You can walk through cemeteries with some so long gone that even their stone inscriptions have been flattened by time, and visited only by birds and squirrels. And these were those purposely interred; what about those numberless ones heaped in piles and burned, or buried in mass graves, with only a carved monument to commemorate individual moms, dads, siblings, children, and infants whose names have long been forgotten? For how many is there no monument at all? 

Some, like the British royalty, have photos, paintings, and titles that reach back generations, the same generations that for the rest of us melt down memories and names until they vaporize into wherever lost memories and names go. How far back before your own family tree vanishes into oblivion? Mine, beyond my grandparents, did so by 1945. 

“I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd,” wrote Japanese author Haruki Murakami, “and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here— me included—will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust.”* 

And how long before even those ashes are forgotten? 

It is a dilemma. But only a secularistic dilemma, which is why many secularists are so pessimistic about the meaning of life, calling it absurd, pointless, and purposeless. After all, depending upon the numbers physicists plug into their formulas, the universe, we’re told, is either going to burn out, rip apart, or collapse in on itself, leaving only ruins for eternity. And who is going to be remembered then? 

In contrast, the biblical worldview gives us a God who knows and loves us all, a God who—noting a sparrow’s fall to the ground (Matt. 10:29)—will never forget anyone, even that dying orphan. We are promised that, because we believe in Jesus, instead of being burned up, collapsed, or ripped apart and forgotten in eternity, we are going to be swept up and carried, loving and being loved in a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4), kamikazes and dying orphans included. 

*Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (New York, Vintage International, Knopf Doubleday Pub. Group, Kindle Edition), p. 52.

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guides at the General Conference of Sev- enth-day Adventists, and a longtime columnist for Adventist Review.