As part of a class assignment today, I visited the JFK Library in Boston, which if you’ve never been, is an incredible place to go. The view of the city, alone, from outside the museum is worth the trip.
Inside the museum, through December, they have a section dedicated in memory of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose impact on my life, and the lives of many, cannot be overstated.
As you wander through the exhibit you’ll see handwritten letters and notes from Hemingway, a man whose memory and legend have far surpassed anything one might attain in a mere, mortal existence.
I was lucky, earlier this month, to see a Springsteen concert in Gillette Stadium, and with four-plus hours of music, it was incredible. (I’ve gone to 13 Springsteen shows in the past with friends, girlfriends, and even one solo, but this time I took my Mom, who I blame wholeheartedly for turning me into a Bruce nut in the first place).
But between visiting the memories of Hemingway and seeing Springsteen on stage, I was reminded of something important, and perhaps even necessary for any of us pursuing a career in any artistic field.
If we are able, no matter the sum, to earn some amount of money doing this — this thing, or these things, that we love, that’s fantastic.
But if money were the motivation, we’d never have reason to write at all. Exactly no one, in the history of humanity, has ever said: “You know what I’ll do? I’ll get rich writing!”
But perhaps there’s another kind of wealth to be sought. If we can impact, inspire, or move someone with words or images… if we can affect a life in a positive way with something we create… maybe that’s a reward that has a greater value, or higher purpose.
As I wandered through the JFK museum today looking at handwritten letters from Hemingway, I began to wonder…
And in Gillette Stadium sharing more than 30 songs with my mom, a Springsteen fan from the get-go, I began to wonder…
What is this… “worth?” What is the value of what these men have created, shared and left behind for us?
I will never be so bold or confident to think that I, or any writer, might articulate that value in question.
The music, the words, the books and the albums and the concerts and the novels that we share, that we savor, that become part of our fabric as a human being, are of greater value than any material thing we might exchange here.
Both Hemingway and Springsteen, early in their careers, were faced with critics, doubt and rejection. I can only really, for a moment, begin to imagine their “worth,” as human beings when I consider what my life might be like without their influence.
And if we each take a moment to consider what our lives might be like without our favorite author, without our favorite band… we can almost grasp how important these things are to each of us, and to all of us as a whole.
And how important it is, then, for each of us to continue to strive in our own way to make what contribution we can.