“Fame. I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly. High.”
You know the song. “Fame. I’m gonna live forever.” The pounding beat, the back-up singers, the wail of the electric guitar. It makes you want to dance, right? To wear legwarmers and a sweatshirt that falls off one shoulder. Not that you and I hunger for fame. Not us. A tiny bit wouldn’t be so bad, but not the face-on-the-tabloid-cover kind of fame and certainly not the photographer-behind-the-hedge kind.
It’s only natural to be known by a few people…or a few hundred or a few thousand—your tribe, your village, your neighborhood. But wanting to be known all over the world just seems greedy.
I started thinking about fame when I was reading Jess Walter’s novel, Beautiful Ruins. One of his characters was in love with Richard Burton. Another, her son, was obsessed with fame. “It was all he’d ever wanted. To be big. To matter.” His search for fame and his drug use nearly ruined his life. And yet, I could sympathize with his desire “to matter.”
Don’t get me wrong. As a writer, I’m a private person. I don’t hunger for fame. But neither do I want to be invisible. That was something I realized the day my husband died.
The day my husband died
I was out on the deck choosing a color for a new roof when his heart stopped beating. The crab we’d bought from a roadside vender on the way home from his root canal was clattering in the sink. As far as I knew, my husband was sitting at the table eating the Jell-O I’d made for him. When he fell, I couldn’t understand what I’d heard. It was such a strange sound—not at all like a live person falling.
After the frantic 911 call and the CPR, after the medics’ repeated attempts to revive him and the calls to a doctor, after the pronouncement of death and a call to my daughter, they took him away, his body. And I was alone.
Alone in a house that was new to me. Six acres of no one. A forest of Douglas firs and big leaf maples climbing Eagle Ridge behind me. Below, a pasture, a not-so-friendly horse rancher, and then more fields and trees and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. My nearest daughter was on the other side of the state, and the sun was going down.
The rest of that day is a blur now. I cried, I know that. I may have thrown the Jell-O and crab away, or maybe I put them in the fridge and threw them away later. (I didn’t eat crab again for years.) The one thing I do remember is being in bed and feeling something more than alone. That night I felt that I no longer existed.
If a tree falls in the forest …
You know the question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If no one knows you exist, do you?
According to a metaphysical theory developed by George Berkeley in the 18th century, “To be is to be perceived.”
Hmm … What do you think?
Next week’s post: “Manila’s Chinese Cemetery”
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