Here lies Fred, the earth is fed. Six feet under ’cause now he’s dead.
Nora Ephron passed away earlier this week. Actually, if you happened to get your news through the filter of Twitter, she passed away, turned out not to have passed away after all, and then finally did pass away in the end.
But her death got me thinking about legacy – how someone might want to be remembered as compared with how they ultimately will be remembered. Make no mistake about it, Nora Ephron was extremely accomplished in her field… no, fields. A career spanning better than 25 years, playing a major role in bringing significant movies to a screen near you. She wrote scripts, she produced, she directed – sometimes she did two or all three of those things on the same project. She was talented and, often more importantly, she was bankable.
Was every movie a home run? No, of course not. Nobody bats 1.000. But even when she didn’t square up her pitch, she usually still made solid contact, spraying doubles all over the park.
So it was interesting seeing how people used their 140 characters to twemorialize her. How do you sum up her career? What’s the touchpoint so that people who didn’t know Nora Ephron by name would go “Oh, her? That’s too bad. I like her stuff.”? And when someone chose “You’ve Got Mail” as their touchpoint, it was especially interesting seeing over people jump all over them for it, as if the only acceptable choice was either “When Harry Met Sally…” or “Silkwood”.
Look, “You’ve Got Mail” is ubiquitous. It’s Sunday afternoon on TBS when baseball’s not in season. It’s Wednesday nights on W Network. It’s the “Law & Order” of movies; scarcely a day goes by when you wouldn’t trip across it on your dial. It’s also a perfectly fine movie. Better done the first time around, sure. A little formulaic, yeah. But it’s a movie very much of its time, with familiar faces, and a familiar meet-cute premise. It’s Wonder Bread. It’s vanilla ice cream. It’s comforting. And a ridiculous number of people have seen it, and watch it again and again every time it’s on.
So, what’s the matter with being remembered as the director, screenwriter, AND producer of a movie with that kind of pedigree, whether it’s the valedictorian of your particular class of work or not? Shit, there are literally tens of thousands of people who would be thrilled to have that as their epitaph.
Look, you live your life, and the people who cross your path are each going to take away their own memories of what your time here meant. All you can do is leave firm impressions with your footsteps and always keep pointed in the direction you want to be travelling. Do your best each day, and hopefully the gap between how you want to be remembered and how you ultimately will be can be spanned with a tiny hop rather than a suspension bridge.
What do you want it to say on your tombstone?