I recently wrote to my friend Patrick:
More and more people seem to be concerned about their "legacy" these days: politicians, athletes, business-types, as well as lesser individuals. What will they leave behind so the world will know they existed? How will history remember them? Personally, I'm not concerned with that. Not one jot, not one tittle. Yes, I write stories and self-publish books and write and record music which I hope people will like and that will get played on the radio but . . . I don't care what happens to it all after I've shed this mortal coil. Won't do me any good then. People are often quick to point out that Vincent van Gogh didn't sell a single painting during his lifetime, as if that's supposed to mean something, somehow provide solace. Sorry, but if you aren't recognized as being a genius or the Son of God or whatever during your lifetime, what good does it do you when you're gone?
I closed the email with "I won't mind dying so much as long as I know people will say nice things about me when I'm gone."
In his reply, Patrick asked who the quote was attributed to (I'd made it up though it would seem to be a common enough sentiment) before waxing eloquently on “. . . how many millions of lives, stories, relationships, conflicts, names, poems, epithets, myths and facts have vanished from the earth.”
There's a great sadness in that. For too many years we've lived in a time when everything – and, it can be argued, everyone - is disposable, and only what exists in the here and now matters. I fight against this everyday and over the years have become a sort of self-appointed “custodian of childhood” as well as a repository of historical anecdotes from not only my lifetime but stretching back beyond the building of the pyramids. Even so, there's so much I can't access for the simple reason I wasn't paying attention. I remember, for instance, the sound of my grandparents' voices but I am unable to quote verbatim anything they said. Given how I've long prided myself on my memory, you'd think I would have something stored away, but I don't. Of course, the argument/defense "you can't remember everything" will always be made and that's true enough, but I can quote passages from books and large portions of movie dialogue (in character) without batting the proverbial eye. There's something not right about that.
“A thing lives only as long as the last person who remembers it."
I have met people who claimed to have “blocked out” certain years, even decades, as they were so horrible. One of my ex-wives (no names, please) even went so far as to say she had blocked out the first 18 years of her life, so terrible was her existence both at home and in what she termed “the incredibly oppressive atmosphere” of The Old Home Town. Well, unless you were there you can never know what goes on behind closed doors but from what I remember of being around her away from her home she was rolling pretty well during those years. But I could be wrong. After all, it wasn't all that long ago I crossed paths with one of the guitarists from my first band, a guy I shared the stage and a microphone with (and, it bears mentioning, a lot of laughs) for two years. He looked at me like I was some kind of large, not exactly exotic insect and responded to my greeting and subsequent remarks & queries in a manner which suggested he, too, had “blocked out” those years and, apparently, any and all thoughts/memories of a certain yours truly. Shades of 1984! I had, to his mind, become an “unperson” and our shared experiences had never happened.
Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory remains an intriguing painting, but it would seem memories have become more hindrance than treasure and I find this, too, to be a great sadness.