*A piece of fiction inspired by an interview I did, that made me think about how we think of legacies, and the tragic nature of how we are all a rich story, untold.
HE WAS smaller than expected. Bent over with age, grumpy. We were seated in plush armchairs, the PR executives hovering over, attentive and cautious. When I asked my first question, his response was: ‘It’s in the book.’
A book I had unfortunately just received I gently and regretfully, informed him.
A little irritation. A fair gripe. But I am here, and the interview must continue. As we carry on, He seems tired. His body is small, frail. It feels shrunken, tiny – overtaken by a world you expect to at some point stop and acknowledge you, all that you have done for it – but carries on nonetheless.
Oblivious. Blind to the toll on those who have served their time.
As we sit there, I feel a little sorry.
I think of my grandmother, whose scattered stories of the war, whose recent loss of her closest companion – a husband who stayed faithfully, lovingly, and affectionately by her sided for over seven decades – sits now in a house that is empty.
Life seems pointless without him – the mirth, the joy, the future stretched miles ahead. Now the road leads nowhere. The dead end approaches. What does life leave for us when all is said and done?
The sum and breadth and color of all our experiences, the epic journey each man takes; what does it all count for when one is left alone, a biopic contained within, known only to ourselves?
All we have left are our memories, and even those begin to fade.
And when they fade, what do we become?
Do we lose ourselves gradually, piece by piece, before the final moment snuffs out the small proverbial pilot flame altogether?
What a strange thought that we move through life, poetry forming.
Us, weaving in and out of each others verses.
Masterpieces influencing masterpieces, before each reaches its final crescendo – a storied monolith, charted with the grooves of inward epiphanies, that can be hewn only through the slow weathering of time.
My grandmother, this man.
I am sitting here, to play a role in the immortalization of his story in words on pen and paper (or keyboard and pixels, perhaps).
To write about a biography that has been published of his life.
It’s true that him and her, they move in different circles.
And it’s also true that these are circles I cannot claim to really know much about – not enough for my conclusions to be worth anything more than flimsy and unreliable assumptions.
Nonetheless my impressions stick with me.
If a monument where to be made their legacy, if all lives snuffed out at the end of days were immortalized in stone: a life-like depiction of their final interaction, capturing their feelings towards the world, his expression would hold a modest smile.
His world, I imagine, is one where titles and privilege are as heavily embedded within his experience of life as the expressions on his statue’s face; and that modest smile would I imagine, be accompanied by a copper plated inscription: Man of many achievements.
Only then, would the statue be complete – with both the understated expressiveness of his smile and the inscription, alluding to the grandness underlying his modesty.
Without the inscription.
I feel his expression would morph.
His face would be frozen in stone with furrowed brows: uncertainly, a little resigned indignation.
Her monument I imagine, would be without a copper plated inscription.
I don’t know if it would be sadness, or the evolution of self that comes with silence that create the final expression, but her internal feelings about her place in the world would yield a fleeting smile.
A captured moment, in between sadness and loss.
Perhaps her immediate response to an audacious Hong Kong celebrity presenter on the television she watched from a bamboo chair next to the television.
Or laughter at something someone said, as she looks up from her stool at the marble table by her late husband’s musky desk, glasses round her neck and broadsheet Chinese newspaper strewn open on the table.
In her world, all that mattered were the simple things.
And though her depression and sadness and vulnerability at her companion’s passing is full of a childlike innocence, she is wiser than most in allowing herself to embrace it.
Despite the grand achievements of the man whose biography I must write about; I imagine her epiphanies, etched in that fleeting smile are deeper in self knowing.
A life of silence, where the joy of family as they come and go, first living, then visiting, moving in and out as their own lives take over – those final years, or decades import a final truth – the impermanence of all things.
This is preparation, the final transformation – the realization that you don’t matter.
The statue, the frozen monument of her, would be a fleeting snapshot in time.
For, I imagine, she expects nothing.
Least of all an acknowledgement from the world at large.
In contrast, the result of a life filled with people; things; moving in circles where the biggest indulgence is humbleness enabled by the reciprocal praise of other titled men: a fading ego lingers in the place of silence.
It is eroding, as all things do with time.
But I imagine the more integral position of self validation through acknowledgement perhaps leaves more room for the subtle creeping emotion of confused indignation.
His reaction to me not having the read the book, makes me feel sorry for him. It reminds me of my father, whose sorrows are drowned in the haze of music and whisky.
The belief that life owes you something, the bitterness at time lost.
I wonder if I will be the same.
I hope that one day, I will find peace, find a rock that allows one to be content with silence, and if I lose that rock first, be as graceful as my grandmother has been in allowing the final, most painful lesson to take place.
The process of discovering that I am alone, truly alone.
That we all are.
And that life’s epic journey is a story that can never truly be known by anyone other than yourself.