When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can’t remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me—blindly, entirely, without sense or reason.
Most of the people I love and respect say they are happy to live out their lives in anonymity. To make some money, have a family or not have a family, pursue their interests, and not be bothered with history or legacy. I love and respect them. I love and respect that about them. But here’s a confession: I’m not like that. I understand that the best I can probably expect is to be remembered for a few generations by my family as something more than a mere historical fact. Many of my ancestors haven’t even gotten that much. But I can’t help wanting more.
Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I have this certain pressing interest in legacy. I wouldn’t call it an obsession; I certainly wouldn’t call it a blind desire to be loved or adored. It’s just a nagging desire to be respected. I want to affect the way somebody reads the world, and I want them to appreciate me for it. I want to write something so good that it makes other writers think for a passing minute about just giving up, the way I have a thousand times. And when I’m dead, I want those slight changes in perceptions I caused, the moments of doubt and inspiration I stirred, to bond as some sort of collective body – a legacy.
I realize the sentiment is totally narcissistic and hollow. I know that ‘success’ as a writer or anything else won’t be the panacea that answers for all my existential insecurities. Plus, the logic is terrible. When I’m dead, I won’t know whether or not somebody is reading me, loving me, hating me. And if dead Eric Nusbaum were able to tell, I doubt he would care much.
So I deal with it. I push my silly glorious fantasies off to the corner and shut them out and try to live in the moment and do the best I can. It’s not terribly hard. We all wrestle with our stupid demons.
I think as children we all want to be loved like that. We want to be astronauts because astronauts pilot space ships, but also because they sit shotgun in open convertibles and wave their way down parade routes. We want to be movie stars because movie stars get to see their faces on billboards and big screens. We want to be President and see our names alongside Washington’s, Lincoln’s, Kennedy’s. And we want to be baseball players. Not merely to hit home runs, but to circle the bases and look up at the lights and out at the crowd. We want to collect our own cards.
But most of us move on. Our interests change, our talents leave us in the wake of people who are soon to come up short themselves. And that’s how life goes for the 99.9% of which you and I are probably a part. We may or may not still want everyone to love us, but regardless we realize they probably won’t. The love of a few people is a lot better than none, and perhaps more meaningful than the love of everybody.
Except that’s only 99.9%. Somebody out there never has to give up on those dreams, never has to settle. It’s just math. Somebody has to walk on the moon, win an Oscar, deliver the State of the Union, greet his team in the dugout with hugs and high fives. What about that guy? Does he ever adjust like the rest of us? Does the adulation merely carry him, like a wave, to oblivious success? Or is it like a drug? Perhaps he comes to need glory and depend on it for nourishment. Perhaps he doesn’t just want to be loved – blindly, entirely, without sense or reason, but his very existence hinges on it.
And what if that guy played third base for the New York Yankees?
This will continue, in much less self-indulgent fashion, over the course of the week.