The speed at which a place closes up after you’re gone is scary, regardless of what you might have done during your time there. It just doesn’t even matter.
None of it really matters. And, you know, my uncle on my mother’s side was Glenn Miller. He was actually inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame at the University in Boulder a few years back. I took a trip over there one time to try and see the collection, but when we got there, the student working there didn’t know anything about Glenn Miller, and honestly, we barely even got in to see the exhibit. I can’t imagine not knowing who Glenn Miller was, and disregarding the fact that he was my uncle, he was a man who left a legacy across the nation. There’s something pretty indescribable when you realize how little people remember you when you’re gone. That feeling I experienced when I realized this was, well, it was shocking. You’re forgotten mighty fast.
Realizing that someone like Glenn Miller could be reduced to the memories of few people at such a quick and quiet pace really shaped the perspective I had of my own father’s contributions to his workplace and even perhaps his own legacy. Growing up watching him design and paint sets for his shows really helped cultivate a personal love for artistic experiences throughout my own life. He was a professor at what is now known as the University of Northern Colorado. As the youngest son, I remember different parts of my father’s involvement with the university. With that, I have come to realize the fleeting nature of remembering and how pretty much, as soon as you’re gone, your connections and contributions are swept out into the vast space of forgotten moments.
It was with these thoughts in my head that I made another trip to the University of Northern Colorado’s archives. Several years back I had dropped off some of things at the archive’s office that my father had used during his time as a professor. I visited and just left the staff with several big garbage bags full of some of his paintings, his manuscript, and slides of his theatre sets, because that was the only conveyance I had. I knew this was what needed to be done, that a university would be the most apt place where these things could be stored, at least for a while.
So, right after my uncle’s induction, I had some additional things I wanted to drop off at the archives and I went down to the basement of Michener Library and low and behold, on the wall were some of my father’s paintings! And mind you, the staff had no idea I was coming, no idea at all, and yet I walked into that library and the first thing I saw were my dad’s paintings on the wall. My first thought was, “My God, it can’t be true! The right people are aware!” And you know what, it isn’t just about my dad, who happened to make a contribution here –as I’m sure hundreds and hundreds of people do—but it’s involvement and working for an institution that values what you do. What a legacy.
Legacy. What a strange thing. What does it mean if you contribute so much to a community and a place but then, once you’re gone, space closes like a vice around any memory of that contribution? Who’s to say any one person’s contributions are any greater, or more worthy of remembrance than anyone else? I’ve traveled to many places over the course of my life, and in each, I’ve been able to find connections because of my father’s legacy. The love I have for art and expression I have because of his work and involvement in the school. How do you hold a space open for someone who’s not around anymore but, for at least you and some others, really did make a contribution worthy of remembrance to the community around them?
Although change has happened in many of my experiences, in my life, and definitely in Greeley, ultimately this is a great place to come back to. I learned a lot here, and the time I spent here has definitely helped shape me. Besides experiencing that there are people out there who actually care, I also learned that no matter what, you take yourself with you when you go elsewhere. You take your appreciations and talents and values with you, which make you confident that you can change and find soil where these things can root wherever you go. And that is very comforting.
This story originally appeared in Facing Change: Reflections on Civic Health & Social Trust, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the University of Northern Colorado in Greely, Colorado.