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Hendrick Goltzius: Gillis van Breen (1588/92)

" … the most Successful HasBeen I can remember."

No inquiry into Success could be considered complete without at least mentioning the HasBeen. The HasBeen might have once held high office, but no longer. His legend's much more potent than his presence. He once was but is no longer. In government service, a protocol insists that anyone retired shall forever be acknowledged by the honorific appropriate to the highest office they held. A former President shall be forever referred to as Mr. President, even though he might have also once been a dog catcher or a Senator. Ambassadors might come a dime a dozen, but nobody outlives that designation. There's just no living down some things. Those of us who never served in government might struggle to identify the highest role we ever fulfilled. Protocol remains mute on whether it's appropriate to refer to an ex-Data Analyst II's most elevated position when acknowledging them or if the less noteworthy titles defer to Mr. or Ms. However, this suggestion backs up to treacherous pronoun territory, which should be avoided under every possible condition.

One ages into a HasBeen without volition.
However lofty one's former position, the peaks cannot hold and seem sure to crumble. Suppose one leaves their peak without having terribly offended any constituents. In that case, the resulting remembrances might seem like complements for a while, but the relevant range of any accomplishment seems measured in mere fractions of lifetimes. Later times will find one dressed in a frumpy cardigan and house slippers rather than anything sporting designer labels. That fine address will one day slip out of the best neighborhood. That once fine car will eventually go to rust. The question will ultimately become, "What has he done lately?" rather than "What did he do?" Notoriety echos sparingly. Fame fades.

One's grandson or granddaughter will find themself unable to imagine the world their grandfather and grandmother once mastered. It might appear as if in fading black and white or sepia without most of its more familiar companions. Even I, born into modern times, must admit that I spent my childhood with the ancients. Most of the empty lots I used as playgrounds have been filled in now with tacky housing developments, and this world seems shoulder-to-shoulder, with little elbow room within which to wander. The curse of any age might be the encroaching capability to remember when, a superpower solely possessed by the HasBeen.

Success seems fleeting. It might seem as though it takes forever to achieve, but it will most certainly eventually leave with perhaps an inextinguishable tail. Where Success goes, nobody knows. It dare not stay. We might frantically seek fresh Successes, lest our secure position get overrun by some HasBeen. It might be wise to enjoy the peaks while one can because each of us seems destined to live and then die in valleys not entirely of our own making. Once one's climbed the mountain, one climbs down again, sometimes to wide acclaim. Some clown's sure to outdo whatever summit you achieved, for that's inescapably the way of this world. I wonder after the Successful HasBeen, the one who remembers without regret and accepts a humbling position after experiencing greatness, the Jimmy Carter, who was once our President before becoming an even more successful, humble, and enviably ex-, the most Successful HasBeen I can remember.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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