I’ve been thinking lately – which not a few of my friends will tell you is not always a good thing, nor which I shall claim as an always profitable pastime – but I’ve been thinking lately about how people are remembered.
Famous people are remembered for a variety of things. Brilliance of mind – DaVinci springs to mind, prodigious artistic output such as Michelangelo and Picasso, statesmanship – Churchill, certainly, great evil – Hitler and Idi Amin to name only two, benevolence (after ruthless and unethical business dealings) – Carnegie, Rockefeller, Mellon, great goodness and character – Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa (all sainted in many respects, all too human filled with doubts and fear, all very political, all expert manipulators of religious fervor), nasty disposition – that wretched Helmsley woman, and upsetting apple carts – Einstein, Darwin, Dawkins, Hitchens.
Then there are people who are not famous. Those who go about fulfilling without complaining their accepted duties or those duties thrust upon them by kinship or circumstance; those who go about making trouble by gossiping and intruding into situations or being always testy and ill humored, negative Nancys who complain about everything and find fault with everything. Those who present new ideas to young people – teachers, mentors, people who love just to talk. Those who question and ask “why” and “how” and “are you sure?” Those who say, “well, that may be true for you, but is it true for these people, or in this time, or under these circumstances?” These people are remembered – for good or bad, they’re remembered.
And I was thinking, too, of what difference may exist between how I shall be remembered and how I want myself to be remembered. Contemplating that difference is to contemplate the entire panoply of people I’ve met – or who have seen me or heard of me, who may have heard me play the piano or the organ when I still did those things. Or those select few who saw me read out the bitch in the grocery store: she called me a faggot and read her cards to the point where she fled the store in tears – abandoning her grocery cart and purse. Or those cab drivers who lost their medallions because I complained that they were in a bus zone and not a cab zone.
Many will certainly remember me because I made them laugh.
And then I muddled over how long an individual might be remembered. Two or three generations? Four? Famous people far longer – obviously centuries or even millennia! But, since I’m not at all famous and have no aspirations to be famous for any reason, why should I give a damn how I’m remembered?
And then I realized that I have no reason to modify my impulsive actions other than to 1) keep my job and 2) not get killed or wind up in prison. Don’t swear in the office, don’t assault students verbally even if they don’t know how to think or listen or connect with reality, don’t insult the big dude on the train that has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Don’t deal drugs, don’t burn down churches or assault priests (in the open). You know – the usual stuff.
But then I remember that I am, perhaps, maybe, I hope, somehow important to someone or several some ones, relevant in some manner to the life or lives of some people I know or that know of me. And they will remember me in some manner; perhaps talk of me in some future decade I’ll not be around to witness. I hope they’ll remember me fondly, or at least without rancor. But someone will remember me as an asshole – I’ve certainly taken my turn at being The Asshole probably more than is fair.
But beyond making people laugh, or being a character, I’m starting to hope that people will remember me because I made them think. I want to be remembered as a question asker. The “What If” guy. The “What Then” dude. The “How the fuck” asshole.
Yeah. That’s how I’d like to be remembered. I obviously have to start working on that.