Have you ever read The Old Man and the Sea? It was Ernest Hemingway’s last book to be published before his death. Of course there were a few others published posthumously. I’ve read it three times. This last time I told myself to be certain to read it once every decade. There is a reason for that.
I first read it when I was a teenager. I think I was 17. My brother had a copy of it from when he was in high school. It is the same copy I have today. When I first read it, I found it to be an interesting fishing story. When I read it again in my 20’s, I found it more profound and began to see the metaphorical meanings behind it. I read it again about a year ago and it hit so emphatically that I could hardly overcome the sadness I felt. I began to unravel so much of its meaning and what each particular item—the old man, the fish, the sea, the skiff, the boy—represented. At least what they represented to me.
I know when I reach my 40’s and I pick up this book, certain things will stand out even more. There will be a meaning more desperate than this last time. The book, I feel, is an urging to the reader to fight the good fight. To do your best. But it comes with a warning. It is a warning that despite all your efforts, even triumphs, it will come to nothing.
THE WORDS OF SOLOMON
It reminds me of my favorite book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes. This book was written by King Solomon, and the first chapter reads: “All is vanity (2)…I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of the spirit (14).”
This part, however, I believe ties in most definitely with the book: “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. (11)”
IS BEING REMEMBERED IMPORTANT?
What is done here on earth will not be remembered by those to come. This isn’t completely true because there are things done by some that have been remembered for thousands of years, like Solomon. But most everyone goes to their graves to lie under a tombstone that summarizes much of what will be remembered of them (we rarely know what abides in the tombstone’s dash).
This is why there are so many family members who find Ancestry.com so fascinating. Many of us do not know our family history or where we came from. Forgetting seems more popular than remembering. Then again, how can one remember if they are never told?
SHOULD WE STILL PURSUE?
If they are not remembered or if it is all vanity, then what purpose does it serve? So are things worth doing? Are goals worth pursuing?
The answer is emphatically “yes.” Even if we aren’t remembered. Even if we die tomorrow and the world continues on, as it always does and always will, without taking a moment to reflect on our passing, the answer was, is and always will be “yes.”
This answer comes from the Hemingway novel, and not so much from chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I utilized several of Hemingway’s novels in my novel, including and especially The Old Man and the Sea. The old man in my book tells the young boy that it isn’t about the fish or the end result. Life is about the wonderful struggle. It is about fighting the fish. It is about making memories for ourselves. If others wish to remember or write our story down, then so be it. But at the end of the day, let us accept the fact that the things we strive for are of themselves vanity. The fact is, that’s OK. Then again, come the fourth time I read the novel, when I reach my 40s, I may see it a little differently.
I recently read the “Song of the Open Road”, which I will discuss in detail in a later post, and truly life is simply that: the open road. It is awaiting us. Memories for others, stories for the kids—those are fine and dandy. But first, let’s start here (I’m pointing to my heart). Fill that and you won’t worry about what people remember.
SMALL NOTE: The title Hemingway’s other novel The Sun Also Rises stems from Ecclesiastes 1. Just in case you had made the connection and thought I had not.