When I told a friend Roger Whittaker had died, her reaction was not entirely unexpected.
The smooth-voiced baritone occupied one of those interesting musical niches. Depending on where and when you grew up, he was either full-screen or off the radar entirely. He had a fan base of millions that followed him in concert and on TV, but no real celebrity profile. His signature song, “The Last Farewell,” sat virtually unnoticed for four years before abruptly going viral; another piece, “I Am But a Small Voice,” was briefly unavoidable if you were within earshot of a children’s choir.
In short, he had fame without being Famous.
And really, that’s not a bad place to be.
We don’t glamorize that sort of thing, almost by definition. The big dream, after all, is supposed to be what the Muppets once called “The Standard Rich and Famous Contract.” Celebrity with a Capital C, the sort of thing that comes with mansions, awards, screaming fans, gossip writers, obsessed stalkers, nuisance lawsuits, no hint of privacy …
Er, remind me why we want this again?
It’s not wrong, of course. Not entirely. When you look at it closely, the “rich and famous” dream is just an exaggeration of two things we all want very much.
First, we want freedom from worry. The ability to handle crises, needs, even some fun, without it being a stress or a strain.
Second, we want someone to remember us. To think about us kindly. Maybe even to know that something we did had an impact on someone else.
That first part, the freedom from worry, is pretty elusive, to be fair. We’ve all got different lives and situations and they can change with amazing speed. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it showed us how something as fundamental as health is not a given and how thoroughly its absence can transform a once “normal” life.
But the second part – memory. That’s a little more achievable.
I don’t mean that we’ll all have continents light up at the mention of our name. For some of my more introverted friends, that might even be a nightmare more than a dream. But we all have something we can share, some way to touch a life beyond our own.
For some, it’s music or storytelling. For some, it might be the ability to build or repair or restore. It might even be a simple gift of time, lifting up a neighbor or a stranger, showing them they’re not alone and that someone else cares.
That doesn’t require a limo or a record deal (although I suppose it never hurts). Just the willingness to see beyond your own skin and reach out.
Our lives touch each other all the time, like marbles packed in a jar. We can’t help it. But what we can do is make that touch matter.
Maybe we won’t set the world ablaze. But frankly, there’s enough burning as it is. If enough of us add a soft light, just where we are, maybe that’s enough.
After all, enough small lights can make a world shine. And the ones who see your light won’t forget it.
So here’s to the Rogers, big and small. Here’s to the ones you labored for, the ones who’ll remember your presence and be better for it.
And when you reach your “Last Farewell,” may the chords you struck linger on.