My family and I were walking together in Central Park this past Sunday when I was lured by an erhu’s ( that’s a Chinese violin) delicate, beautiful song echoing out of the far end of a nearby tunnel. As we detoured, we passed a stretch of benches that I noticed had many small dedication plaques on them. I bent down and took a closer look at one of the last benches in the row: Eric C. Hurner.
We had to get going so I resisted my urge to linger but as I walked away, I was trying to make this name real. I wished I had met Eric C. Hurner. I wanted to know him. I wanted to talk with his family and co-workers. I needed to uncover everyday nuances about him. Was he endearing and loved, eccentric but tolerable or maybe terse yet sensitive?
Over 4,000 benches in Central Park have been dedicated so far. Every bench has a story and so do the 42 million people that pass through the park each year. A small fraction of these park visitors will feel an endearment so strong (plaques cost $10,000 now) to both the park and a loved one that they too will contribute something at least one part enigma of their own to the landscape, leaving someone like me wondering about them.
When the people we love go away, we wish we got to know them before they became a memory. The thing is that the living are much harder to understand than those one line epithets and epitaphs. Perhaps we much prefer to simplify our peers that way.
As for you Eric C. Hurner, what I can say with some confidence is that somebody loved you very much. Your life and your death stirred someone who cared to go that extra mile and dedicate a special bench in your honor and in your memory. I hope you got to do all the things you wanted to, that you didn’t leave loose threads behind and that you took every opportunity to say “I love you” whenever you had it.
What would I want my plaque to say? The time I have now while I’m still alive is my best chance to control that. I much prefer to make each day that I live like a special plaque that I could be proud of. If I live my life well enough, it won’t matter what a plaque says. What my one and only thinks of me is all that matters really.
The great plaques take a lifetime to write.
Even if their texts cause confusion or end up misunderstood, the plaques still carry meaning. So long as the dedicators and the dedicated are still living, someone out there can understand it. And even when the meaning is lost to the world, it hardly makes these benches meaningless.
In no small way, there is life after death.
To be continued…
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