“Be careful what secrets you unearth, for the secrets that unearth you are not far behind.” ~Theodicus
I used to have an aquarium. Not the kind with fish. That would have been too simple, or too complicated, whichever you prefer. But the kind with treasure in it. You know the sort, the one with sand at the bottom, a little rake up against the glass, and the opportunity to mine for gold, or scarabs, or just the faded bones of fish who used to live in those environs before the water went away.
It seemed morbid to me at the time, the idea of an aquarium without water, a place without the one thing that gives it its name (aqua = water), the idea that “once upon a time” and “nowadays” were two distinct terms to label that glass walled cage. Eventually, though, I got used to the idea that nothing was as it seemed, not just in the aquarium, but in the wide world as well. I realized we are all nothing but aquarium bones, waiting to be unearthed when someone sifts through our lives many years from now.
I think of all the people who have come before, all the generations and generations of folks who felt, in their lifetimes, that the things they did mattered, that the time they spent was worthwhile. They lived for themselves, and for those around them, and the thought of being gone or being forgotten wasn’t a thought. Because, to them, the world was what they made of it, and when they left it they felt it was better for them having been in it.
Yet the vast majority of those people left no imprint for us to follow generations and generations down the line. Think of life in the 1800’s, a time so removed from our reality that it might be Year Zero. Think of the people who fought hard, played harder, and worked more than ever to create a life that was better for their children. Then think of their children, who have been nothing but fertilizer for over 200 years. Who remembers them? Why should we feel like we are any different?
History has always been fascinating to me, the famous phrase that goes something like “If we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.” And yet we repeat even the history we remember. Why should the history we forget be any different? As human beings, we can only do so much. We live, we love, we hate, we grow old, and we die. And we only grow old if we’re lucky (even if it doesn’t feel like it when our hair falls out and our bones ache). This is what we do, and when it’s over, it’s largely over. We only remember those the history books say we should remember.
Was Shakespeare gay? Was Henry VIII shooting blanks? Were the kamikaze pilots hoodwinked by the Japanese government? Who else was on the grassy knoll? We will never know the answers to any of these, not for real anyway, because we weren’t there. All we see history through is the lens of time, the pages of some book, some discriminate rhyme. It’s the ultimate fishbowl, and we are the ultimate fish, who live for a day but die and shed our bones. It’s the absolute certainty that the things we do matter that keeps us moving forward, never questioning until we are close to the end.
Even the ones we do remember, for whatever reasons, are seen through the kaleidoscopic tunnel of time and bias. We see the bits and pieces shown to us, we take them in, but we don’t get anything from them in return. There is no reciprocity to the relationship. Instead, we ruminate on them, on their achievements, on what we’ve been shown of their lives. And then, the whole entire time, where have they really been? Simply bones, just like the rest of us will eventually be.
I think of the civilizations buried underneath civilizations, and the ones underneath them, of the people who lived and breathed, who looked up at the sky and took in the brilliant sun as we do now. They lived like they were dying, because they were, and they knew it. But they hoped to leave legacies for their children in the things they had done, in the lives they had lived, in the places they had gone. And those places have been gone, those deeds have turned to ash in the mouths of those who have also been buried over so that progress, true progress, could become an eventuality.
And I don’t want to be aquarium bones. Lest I’ve been confusing in my tirade here, I want to make myself abundantly clear. I don’t want to be aquarium bones. I don’t want to be forgotten, or misremembered, or left out in the open for the sun and elements to strip the skin from my bones. I want to live forever, for my life to be worth something in the grand scheme of things. I want to create so much that the world has no option but to put me in its pantheon. But that’s a worthless ambition. Even as I type that I realize how absolutely worthless it is. Because que sera sera. What will be will be, whether I will it to be or not.
Because, like it or not, I will eventually be aquarium bones, and you will too. It’s not really about that. It’s about what kind of life we want to live for ourselves, for right now, when we are our most relevant. It’s about making sure that we aren’t thinking about how horrible it will be when we are nothing but bones, that we are instead thinking of how we can keep those bones moving in the here and now. We need to enjoy this life, because this life is all that’s promised to us, and we never know when our time will be up. That’s the reality.
These glass walls, and history.