Elvis Presley. Frank Sinatra. Elizabeth Taylor. Marilyn Monroe. Princess Diana.
For many of us, it may seem inconceivable that people don’t know who these people are and yet when I ask my younger staff and patients, I’m actually shocked by how often the answer is, “who?”
It just shows how fleeting fame and notoriety really are. It may take a year or a decade. It may take many decades, but eventually everyone fades, unless you’re part of the history books that still teach your name. Martin Luther King, George Washington, or Gandhi.
Even Mother Theresa seems to be on the cusp.
Sure, they can be revived temporarily with a major motion picture release but in the end as T. S. Eliot once wrote in a poem, we all go either kicking and screaming or peacefully into the night, “not with a bang but a whimper.”
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy and celebrate our accomplishments. Just that ultimately they all become either unknown or a footnote to be seen by researchers looking up a past moment in time.
Fame and glory is entirely dependent on how others view our achievements. And we all know how fickle popularity can be. It’s transformed by the next new fad or dancing animal.
Spending our lives “chasing after that brass ring” can often feel futile and empty when acknowledgement is the ultimate goal. An often quoted phrase from the days when carousels were all the rage. In order to make it a little more exciting than just going ’round and ’round, owners used to put a brass ring high up on a wooden pole. Timed just right it could be grabbed and redeemed for prizes.
The idea that we could possess that prize becomes the ultimate draw.
Everything and everyone fades with time, leaving only our character, deeds and relationships behind to define who we truly were.
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”Shannon Adler
I never knew my great great grandparents on my mother’s side, but I know I have them to thank for keeping my family safe in the United States when Hitler was destroying the Jews in Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, they sent one son to the U.S. He worked to bring another. They worked to bring another, until everyone was out.
My daughter never knew my father, but she proudly carries his name and exhibits the same brilliance, charm and outgoing personality he did. I see him in her gestures, laugh and way she excites a group.
My niece and nephew lost my sister far too young. But they see her love and devotion in all the things she left behind. Her tenacity and strength of character in all she achieved in her short life.
I never knew all the women in history who courageously fought for the rights I have today but I know I stand on their shoulders, as they stood on others, to get where I am today.
We all owe our lives to unknown people who paved the way. They didn’t do it so they’d be remembered. Most understood they were just a cog in a very large wheel. But without those cogs the wheel doesn’t turn and movement can’t be produced.
Forwards or backwards is up to each new generation.
Notoriety, fame, views, followers aren’t relevant. Those will always fade in days, weeks, years. The only thing that stands the test of time is what we give to others. Do we add something to that ever-weaving chain of humanity that’s productive or destructive? Even if our actual names are lost to history, our legacy will remain as an indelible mark forever.
Big or small, good or bad is up to us.
“The greatest legacy anyone can leave behind is to positively impact the lives of others.
Whenever you add value to others lives,
You are unknowingly leaving footprints on the sands of time that live on,
Even after we die.”Emeasoba George