A perspective on fame

A friend and I have often questioned the pursuit of fame. One hopes to pursue a thing for its merit: if it satisfies the heart or has some value. But often there’s a nagging question behind our efforts: Will anyone remember what I do? It makes it very hard to live for the present, if our inner eye is so often distracted by the future. In a way, it tears us in two, makes even humility an avenue for ego (in the hopes that humble actions be remembered), and inevitably leaves us dissatisfied with our as yet unrecognized lives.

As I thought about it more today, it occurred to me that perhaps I’m being tricked by my perspective. After all, in some ways my adult life is as separate from childhood as life is from death: I cannot go back, I no longer walk those paths, and I live now in a world of completely different values and awareness. So I put the question: Does it trouble me that none but a few remember my childhood antics? Would I wish for more to have known them? Do I want to be known more for who I was then, than who I am with each passing day?

In fact, if everyone knew all the things I thought and did back then, it would certainly be more cause for shame than celebration. Yes, some things were cute, or innocent, but the merit of those is due to childhood itself, and not mine alone! On the whole, I’m glad to have a relatively clean slate at this age, and not to live my life under a feeble shadow.

Then how will I feel when this childhood is ended and I journey onward? If people remember me fondly, they are bound to exaggerate what I consider memorable, just as I hear people doing this constantly with respect to anyone they admire. And if they criticize me, will it really be on the points I care about? Is there anyway for posterity to accurately capture who I think I am, or will every enduring memory turn into a public creation, branded only by a name as if the locus of their own ideas – eventually becoming much more a myth than a reality?

If this is so – and my reflections on the great fame of others leans that way – how can fame in this life be anything more than an awkward mis-labeling in the next? No matter what people may have said about my childhood, would it really depict me as I am now? Or would it limit me to moving constantly against a current of expectations, striving to redefine myself against an overwhelming past. It might, in some cases, open doors, but those doors would be held open by benefactors expecting a ghost to walk through.

I have a feeling that perhaps I’ll look back with fondness on the actions mostly forgotten. Made the more precious because I did not fully notice them – things I did with such genuine intent, I never framed a consciousness around them. Or of the joy of an unfettered present, moving agilely with or against the current as I chose. For this I may need a degree of trust and respect from those around me, but not the world-encircling fame my friend and I always talked of.

We look at how the great ones are remembered and sometimes think: I want that. But perhaps we are hearing far more of the psyche of those speaking, than of their beloved object. Maybe fame is just a focal point; and a fairly awkward one at that, given sufficient distance.