A quick reminder on the futility of fame in the halls of eternity, and the importance of focusing on our lives while we still live . . .
“If it isn’t ceasing to live that you’re afraid of but never beginning to live properly . . . then you’ll be worthy of the world that made you.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Death scares many people far less than the notion of being forgotten. Immortality has, and always shall be, one of the greatest allures to our mortal selves.
- We want to be remembered . . .
- We want to be in the pages of history . . .
- To be like Shakespeare, or Plato, or Joan of Arc — to be known centuries from now, to be praised by people we will never meet in an era we will never see . . .
Something about that stirs desire in us, and also bitterness. The one who strives for fame and renown sees death as a void of oblivion that threatens that very aim. But what does it amount to?
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, faced the same issue centuries ago, and pondered it in his writings.
“Words once in common use now sound archaic. And the names of the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus . . . Scipio and Cato . . Augustus . . . Hadrian and Antonius . . . Everything fades so quickly, turns into legend, and soon oblivion covers it. And those are the ones who shone. The rest — ‘unknown, unasked-for’ a minute after death.”
Be it ancient times, or a hundred years from now, the impermanence is the same — as is the futility, and outright insanity, of craving eternal renown. Our only constant is change, yet the very idea of immortality resists that one eternal constant.
Marcus Aurelius, a man at the height of power and influence in his time, came to this conclusion:
“What is ‘eternal’ fame? Emptiness.”
People build empires in their image. Make statues in their image. Have themselves frozen, or preserved, or immortalized in some way. The billionaire and starving artist both fear the ghost of obscurity.
Yet everything crumbles, and even those we remember now may not be remembered in the next age. There is no guarantee. No certainty. Only change.
What do we do then? What should we focus on, if not this dream of being remembered?
On what really matters to us. For Aurelius, it was an upright, resolute approach to life . . .
“Then what should we work for? Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.” ~Marcus Aurelius
It is not up to us whether we are remembered. That, in the end, is up to powers beyond our control. Fame, fortune, renown — they are ironclad one day and paper-thin the next. Our business should not be the business of eternity, but the business of our lives, of what exists and is before us today.
We can’t exact our will over a tomorrow that hasn’t come, let alone an eternity we won’t be around to influence. We have a better obligation . . .
To stop worrying about and craving eternal fame, and to work instead on living a good life while we’re still in this world to enjoy it. On what matters to us — which is unique answer for each of us. As John P. Weiss explores in his article, we often need stop and reflect to remind ourselves of this in order to rise above the superficiality — and sometimes the outright insanity — of societal thinking.
Even if you become the most famous person of all time, even if you will be praised for the next million years, you won’t be around to enjoy that reputation any longer than the person next to you can enjoy theirs.
So enjoy — and nurture —the only thing that you can: your life, and this very moment.