“I understand [Willy Loman's] longing for immortality. Willy's writing his name in a cake of ice on a hot day, but he wishes he were writing in stone.” -- Arthur Miller
In earlier days I liked to haunt cemeteries. I never passed up a chance to roam and read the epitaphs. I paid my respects to my favorite writer, Charles Dickens, at the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. I pondered the terrifying fate of all those anonymous laborers who drowned off the California coast in the Chinese cemetery in Mendocino. One rainy afternoon I spent half an hour paying homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the tiny St. Mary's churchyard on Rockville Pike in Maryland. Now I reflect on how all these people have been remembered.
Christmas Week when I visited Tombstone, Arizona, my perspective about cemeteries shifted. The neat piles of rocks on more than 250 graves on the hill overlooking the old Western town commemorate brevity and brutality...women perishing in childbirth, gunslingers cut down in their twenties, hangings, drownings, massacres, stabbings, consumption, poisoning, suicides. Aside from a Confederate flag on Old Man Clanton's grave, I saw no tokens of remembrance such as I witnessed festooning Fitzgerald's final resting place, no flowers, no notes, no crosses. Just piles of stones.
All New Year's weekend I've been reflecting on how we live out our lives, and how we may or may not be remembered. On New Year's morning when Paula Deen waved to the crowds as Rose Parade Grand Master, my thoughts drifted towards those who rode in that position before. I looked up the list of previous Grand Masters for the Tournament of Roses. We may well remember Edgar Bergen, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd, because their work is preserved for us on tape. But who, aside from family perhaps, remembers the doctors and colonels who dominated the early years of the event? Fame indeed can be fleeting.
Like Willie Loman, I'd like to write my name on something more substantial than a cake of ice on a hot day. My resolution for 2011 is to write more, if not on stone, at least on my laptop...more stories, more articles, and especially more notes to friends.
The Note Project, developed by Mike O'Mary of Dream of Things, invites everybody to participate by writing notes of appreciation. Mike's website says:
Become part of the ripple effect that will transform into a tsunami of good will in 2011!WRITE A NOTE to someone you love today, and SHARE YOUR STORY with us here, so others will be inspired to do the same.
Check out the site and add your note here:
And, if you're ever in the Washington DC area, visit Fitzgerald's grave, which he shares with his wife, Zelda. The tombstone carries the final words from The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."