I'm late! Jet-lagged from the trip. And, I'm afraid, here to talk about monuments.
But first, from last week, the "assignment" was a vacation (because I really, really, really needed a vacation after the events of the past 2 years), the location was London (which ya'll figured out!) and the picture posted of the Sherlock Holmes tiles was underground at the Baker Street subway stop. The "mind the gap" was what we heard each time we got on or off the subway train--a reminder that there's a gap between the car and the platform and to watch your step!
So. Monuments. There are a lot of them in London. There are statues and plaques and buildings and, well, designations everywhere. Compared to anywhere in the USA, London is old. London has centuries of history, and the landmarks to prove it. But what struck me is that monuments and designations are just delays in the inevitable.
People move on.
People no longer care.
The old eventually gets swallowed up by the new.
Everyone still knows the iconic Sherlock...but Hollywood has kept younger people caring with movies. But this figure? I was excited to see it, but how many people under 25 know who this monument is for?
What drove this home was an old church we happened by as we walked through Soho. We could see it through a section of old iron fencing, but it wasn't visible otherwise because the new buildings erected all around it were so much taller and were positioned so close to it. Tall, modern buildings dwarfed and obscured what was once (I'm sure) the jewel of the neighborhood. And in the narrow strip of land between the fence and the church was a stone-carved plaque to some deacon who had served at the church for nearly 50 years, like, 100 years ago. He must've been some revered and respected leader, but at this point, does anyone know who he is? Does anyone really care?
No one likes to think of themselves as being gone when they die. When I was a kid, people would talk about novelists' books living on for them. I didn't aspire to being a novelist, so that seemed like a futile route to me. And, as it turns out, it is. Most of us have never even heard of the best-selling books from a hundred years ago, let alone read any of them.
The movie industry definitely promotes the delusion of life-ever-after, summed up by Fame: "I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly, I feel it comin' together, people will see me and cry. I'm gonna make it to heaven, light up the sky like a flame, I'm gonna live forever, baby remember my name."
Well, no. You're not. You're going to be out with the next season's wave of stars and probably wind up turning to drugs and alcohol and die before you would have if you hadn't been obsessed with fame and living on forever.
People ask me what I want my legacy to be. I have a really good body of work that I'm proud of, but I don't need or want a statue or a landmark or a movie about my life, and I don't expect to be remembered a hundred years from now. This isn't meant to be depressing. On the contrary, I think this is healthy (and realistic). I think recognizing the value of your presence is very much life-affirming. Knowing that today is what matters and that the interactions we have now are what's important helps keep the focus on life, instead of legacy. It also levels the playing field. The way I see it, the only legacy that really matters for any of us--famous or not--is how we treated people day to day while we were alive. I plan to keep focusing on that.