With such an overarching title- some might read it and simply say, “I don’t.” However, I think it’s naive for us to think we don’t care about legacy and history, even if we’re only concerned with our own. Some people live in the past. After recently seeing “Everything is Illuminated,” Staring Elijah Wood, I wonder what compels individuals to focus on preservation.
“Everything is Illuminated” is a relatively independent film covering a trip of a young Jewish American, Jonathan, to a remote Ukrainian village which had been destroyed by Nazis. Jonathan as, as he put it, “a collector.” He had stockpiles of things from his past; things he said would help him remember it. This parallels another character, an old women, we meet in the ruins of the old Ukrainian village, the village where Jonathan’s father grew up. Jonathan craved to know something about his past, and this woman- a fellow collector- was able to provide him with a piece of it.
In one respect, I too fall prey to this fixation. As a journalist, I feel one of the important duties of a paper is to document history in the making for future generations, if not our own. I like seeing a story featuring me because I like the idea that it’s forever. Maybe it’s the ever-human arrogant fixation with being remembered, especially post-mortem. It would seem that someone remembering our life, even for just a moment, gave our life that much more purpose.
I have always been taught that an editorial should pose a question and attempt to answer it, in order to be a good editorial. I started by asking, “why do we care about that past?” I’d like to conclude by saying it’s human. Part of the problem is that much of our society teaches us to make sacrifice for later. A new President is on the way - the promotion is always coming- eternal salvation awaits us upon our death- all of these ideas promote a noble stance that the “now” doesn’t matter.
Part of what makes Jonathan’s character so broken and heart wrenching is that he is incapable of living in the now. He’s surrounded by the past, by history- he lacks no identity of his own. The old woman he met paralleled this. She asked if the war was over. How could she live her life literally disconnected from the world? What life was she living and was it worth it? Why is she so noble- because she keeps the memory of this town alive? What if it was gone and Jonathan was free to live his own life? Like Jonathan, we all need to live a little more in the now.