It is with morbid curiosity that I typically seek out information during the first day of a new year about the so-named famous persons who died the previous year. It is a list that is normally populated with a lot of persons who contributed mostly to popular culture during the course of their lives.
This past year was no exception. The only academic I can recall, offhand, who passed in 2018 is Stephen Hawking. However, I have to wonder if Hawking would have made as big of a splash were it not for the fact that he was an author who likewise appeared on TV as himself in such pop culture staples as Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons, and The Big Bang Theory.
Another type of person typically missing from these end-of-year retrospective lists is your humble philanthropist. That is, the man or woman known for good deeds in your own town. Those philanthropists landing on these lists are typically known only because their great wealth enabled them to give a greater amount of money whenever they made a contribution to a cause or causes. For example, Paul Allen, who helped Bill Gates found Microsoft, was listed among 2018’s solemn alumni as a philanthropist. Upon his death, Allen was the 44th wealthiest person in the United States.
I wish to state emphatically that I do not wish to disparage the legacy of any of those persons gracing the lists composed by cub reporters assigned the tedious task of combing through a year’s worth of obituaries. In fact, sometimes such lists can prove of some value to the family of the deceased. When, for example, a musician dies, people seek out his or her music to listen to or, if an actor or actress, they will watch his or her movies. Many times, this ends up translating into sales and royalties for the estate of the deceased.
However, it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of those reading this will never make any such list of the famous dead. It will not be because we are not worthy, though. No, it will be because ours is simply a smaller stage. Even the laudable, fictional character of George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) only impacted those outside of his own community through the saving of his brother who would perform a life-saving, heroic deed in battle. Yet, as was the point of Angel Second Class Clarence, this was enough. The impact that George had made, no matter how small, still ensured that his life had meaning. It also instilled George with a sense of purpose to continue forward.
It is sad to me that we live in a society now that so prizes notoriety that many will even accept negative attention as his or her claim to fame. For example, the British singer, Lily Allen admitted in her 2008 song, “The Fear,” that she would shamelessly remove her clothes because everyone knows that is how one becomes famous. (Evidently, Ms. Allen had a lot of exposure thanks to the paparazzi.)
Perhaps the timeframe is shorter or longer now, thanks to the internet, but it was Andy Warhol who said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I wonder how many have taken Warhol’s statement to be prophecy? It seems to me, at least, that many a man or woman considers him or herself a failure since they do not become well-known and loved, even if only on social media.
I would encourage people just to be mindful of their own imprint on the world around them. It is a popular trope within science fiction, to be sure, but there is something of a butterfly effect upon which we may rely. Despite its usage in the aforementioned fictional worlds, the butterfly effect, nonetheless, has its roots firmly planted in real world applications. Particularly, it was noted how seemingly insignificant details, when added or omitted, could drastically change a weather forecast model. The metaphor, coined by meteorologist and mathematician, Edward Lorenz, was that the disturbance created by a distant butterfly’s wings could spawn a tornado elsewhere weeks later.
So, friend, just be yourself. You have already undoubtedly had a profound impact on the world around you, hopefully for the good. The longer you live, the more connections you make will cause those around you to be aware of your presence or absence. And the best part of that is, those whom you’ve touched by your life won’t have to read some retrospective list to be reminded of it.