In the Season Two finale of Westworld, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) tells Bernard Lowe(Jeffrey Wright), “You only live as long as the last person to remember you.” Since the episode aired last Sunday night, the phrase has gone viral throughout the blogosphere with fans of the HBO program speculating what it means for the characters in Season Three.
For me, Ford’s maxim went beyond the futuristic universe of Westworld. It was one more synchronistic moment which helped clarify a blog post I started on June 14, but never finished for lack of a central theme. The never completed draft was titled, “Can You Hear Me Now” and was triggered by Kate Spade’s suicide nine days earlier. In an intersection of events which I can only assume were more coincidental than causal, “Who is Kate Spade?” was the question to a Jeopardy! answer the night before her death. None of the three contestants responded correctly.
Now I am not going to suggest Spade killed herself because of a game show incident, but I did wonder if by chance she had watched the episode. From her suicide note and interviews with friends, it is clear the fashion designer was dealing with depression brought on by both personal and professional issues. At worst, the Jeopardy! matter was a last straw. But why?
A second moment of synchronicity last Thursday provided additional clues. While attending a retreat of trustees of a major public university, the vice-president for advancement was asked how he planned to pitch a billion dollar endowment campaign to potential major donors. He talked about what the gifts would mean for the future of the institution. Yet, while he spoke, my thoughts turned to Kate Spade, Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, Roseanne Barr and even Rudy Giuliani. Rice, at age 55, following an appearance in the Sports Illustrated body issue, is convinced he could still play professional football. Barr left her macadamia farm in Hawaii to revive her comedy series about blue collar America. And after 18 months of obscurity GiulianI surfaced as the media face of Donald Trump’s legal team.
Which brings me back to Westworld and the title of this post. The theme which bridges these disparate acts seems to be a desire to stay RELEVANT. A major charitable gift is not about the recipient, it is about the immortality of the donors, having their name forever associated with a cause, program or building. A 55 year old athlete who stays fit and poses nude for Sports Illustrated wants to remind the sporting world, “I’m still here.” Giuliani, who openly campaigned for attorney general in the Trump administration, wanted the same exposure to the limelight enjoyed by Jeff Sessions.
We all seek to be “Relephants.” In life, we continuously seek new ways to do things which are meaningful and remind ourselves and others we have purpose. And in Hamlet’s words, even when we “shuffle off this mortal coil,” that need not be the end of our existence. Educators heed the words of Henry Adams, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” For athletes, it is the records they continue to hold or a plaque in the Hall of Fame of their respective sports. For performers and artists, it is the immortality which comes with an Oscar-winning role or a painting hung in the Louvre.
While elephants are said to never forget, “Relephants” strive to ensure it is others who retain memories of them and their accomplishments. Or as Ford so consummately stated, “You only live as long as the last person to remember you.”
For what it’s worth.