Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ozymandias, George Steinbrenner, and King Tut

So what happens after you die? No, I don't mean that. God can work that one out. What I mean is what happens physically and mentally after you die? To other people. You're dead, it doesn't matter about your toenails growing. I mean memories and memorials and whatnot. (There's a point to this, just go with it).

Most people have one of those grave thingees, with a marker, and a copper vase that'll get stolen and sold for drug money, and birth and death dates. (As for mine, I want a big gravestone that says, "He died as he lived with his mouth wide open." JK) Some people are famous enough to have bigger markers, or statues even. (Some people are even famous enough to have statues made of them while they are still alive...go fig.)

What I want to look at are the truly great monuments to former living people. The Indian royalty that so missed his wife that he built a palace to honor her. Most people know it as the Taj Mahal. Or the Pharoahs of Egypt, who for most of their incest-ridden lives, had slaves build giant pyramids to house their divine bodies after their souls had gone off with Osirus. So too were the temples in Palenque and Tikal in the Mayan civilization. And there are others. These kings had the wealth of the country or empire to do with whatever they wanted, and so they built giant tombs for themselves, as a monument that would stand forever after they were gone. A sign of immortality, especially during the days when life was so short.

What about modern times, though. Surely the need to be immortal didn't die out just because Christianity came along and now the saved will go to Heaven? We're just too materialistic for that. What makes us immortal here in the United States? Some timeless piece of entertainment, a song ("Imagine" by John Lennon comes to mind), a book, a movie. In a sense, those things that outlast the sands of time make those who were involved immortal in the minds of the people that live afterwards. Now, I'm not saying that people hundreds of years from now are going to be playing "Imagine," but you get the idea.

It's much like the conversation that Data had with Dr. Noonian Sung (sp?) in his lab. People cherish the past, the antiquity of their surroundings, because those people that are represented in those buildings, in those works of art and literature, have since become immortal, in a sense. This is a comfort to those of us that live today, in the thought that something of our lives would be kept to pass on to those who come after us. A book published, or a named highway, or an airport (ask kids today why it's called O'hare Airport in Chicago, or Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. Bet you they don't know.)

I'm bringing this up because my mom was talking about how she was upset that they were tearing down Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys since the early 1970's, and building a new facility in nearby Arlington, TX. She didn't understand why, if the building was still useable and popular, why people still didn't use it. After all, Wrigley field has been used for decades. It comes down, I think, to perception. When people look at Texas Stadium, they think of the Cowboys under Tom Landry. So enter Jerry Jones, present manager of the 'Boys and TO and Romo and all the others, and while the glory of the Cowboys under Aikman and Smith and Sanders was great, it's sorta lost its luster now. And Jerry's gettin' old (although he's lost weight, and looks better now than he did a couple years ago), so now it's come down to building a new stadium to attract the Super Bowl in a year or two. It worked, and Jones has said himself that when people look at the new stadium, he wants them to think of Jerry Jones. It's a monument to himself that will stand long after he's gone (or at least until another owner comes along that wants to outdo him.)

There's something about sports stadiums that makes them the Pyramids of America. George Steinbrenner just built a new "Yankee Stadium," at the time when the Yankees are losing their luster, and the once grand empire has now dwindled to jokes on late night talk shows. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if, far below the new Yankee stadium, there's a place where the coffin of George Steinbrenner will be laid to rest, someplace under the pitcher's mound, with all his trophies and awards. Just like King Tut.

I wonder, is it just the massively rich that can create monuments for themselves? At Georgia College in Milledgeville, after the new President got settled in (I don't remember her name, o the irony), she redid Saga (the lunchroom) with a new clock tower, and also made a tower with reflecting pool outside the dorms (getting rid of a parking lot to do it). Could these be but vain attempts to build something of herself on the campus? And what of the vanity of creating something, only to have been forgotten so little time afterward. A person truly worth remembering needs no monument, it is built within, in the hearts and minds of those who knew him or her.

Shelly's poem "Ozymandias" comes to mind, finally. That after generations have gone by, the monuments will fall to dust, and the people forgotten. They will say, "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" and yet the name will be as foreign and forgettable. So let us not build monuments to ourselves, but strive to build memories and love within the people that are around us, so that we will be remembered for the love that we gave, and not the stuff that we made.

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