How many people know you ? How many people know OF you ? Many of us could not care less whether the answers are in the seven figures or just two, or less. None of us could truthfully answer “None !”, or pretend that it wouldn’t bother us if nobody at all knew, or knew of, us. Unless you’re Howard Hughes or St Peter the Hermit or St Simeon Stylites, who lived at the top of a pillar, or St Anthony of Padua, who lived in a tree, most of us prefer to be recognized by, if not share at least occasional company with, at least a few other human beings. (Hermits, of course, may revel in the fame that comes from eccentricity.)
At the other end of the spectrum you have narcissists like Trump – and even some bloggers whose posts are almost as frequent as the Donald’s tweets . . . Normal people need some recognition – who they are, what they have accomplished, what they think, what they like, what they fear and what concerns them the most. No man is an island. We are social animals. People need people. The clichés are right. Some folks go out of their way to achieve more than recognition. They are fuelled by fame; like actors on the stage, they need the applause. They would trade a diamond ring for a standing ovation. Some end up pathetic has-beens, whose name on the billboards has long been forgotten. They dream of the come-back that rarely happens : Chaplin in “Limelight”.
“So what ?” I hear you ask. Well, I guess that at 80 I’m entitled to wonder what has made me tick all these years. Sure, I liked the applause – especially when it was genuine and deserved. Getting my name on even a self-published book gave – and gives – me a certain satisfaction. But I have seen too many sad cases of arrogant, self-centered dudes who spent their life playing to the crowds, not to be myself conscious of the ridicule if not the pity they deserve. I’ve long settled for less, and consider myself lucky to have lived a life I do not regret, and to have been privileged to be loved by my children and grandchildren and tolerated by a handful of friends.
Sixteen years ago, when I retired, I looked back at the past and forward to the future and wrote a poem, in which I asked who, at 64, could ask for more ? Whether I “made a difference”, whether what I was, what I did, what I wrote, what I taught was recognized and appreciated or not, doesn’t matter now as much as it used to. My epitaph will still read :
“Here lies Frank O’Meara . . . W H O ?”
Smart-ass, right to the very end (and beyond !), wanting to be noticed, even in a cemetery. As Trump would say, “Sad !”.
It’s a bit long for an epitaph, but if my family can afford it, I have a variation that would be a corker in a cemetery :
“I tried to tell the world there is no God up there :
‘Don’t waste your time in church, don’t waste your time in prayer.
You think that you were made to suffer years of strife
So that you will one day enjoy eternal life ?’
They’re wrong, you have to see, those priests who think they know
The answer to it all, and so they try to sow
The seeds of faith and hope. But all of it’s a scam.
I don’t need God at all. I think therefore I am.
(or at least I was)”.
P.S. It is, of course, a pure coincidence that this particular post appears on the feast of Saint …Narcissus !