“Remember, wherever you go, there you are.”
I first read the quotation scrawled on the wooden wall of a
tiny restroom in High on Rose, a restaurant (ahem, a dive) at, yes, the corner of High and Rose Streets in Lexington, Ky.
The restaurant no longer exists, I don’t think, but during my graduate school days at the University of Kentucky it was popular for its Mexican food and liquid libations.
Apparently, some wag having partaken of a liquid libation or two scratched out the quotation on the restroom wall one raucous (or maybe doleful) evening: “remember, wherever you go, there you are.”
In the years hence, I have tried to dissect the phrase, to see if there is any profound meaning there.
After all, the sentence begins with the verb, “Remember,” and that is what the study of history is all about.
Historians remember their own experiences, and then through primary and secondary sources historians remember vicariously through the collective observances and remembrances of others.
The rest of the sentence is more problematic: “wherever you go, there you are.”
How can historians or anyone else, make sense of that?
Well, wherever we go, wherever we find ourselves, however we came to that place, through whatever circumstances, by whatever means, we have arrived at a place, whether we think of that place in historical, geographical, emotional, intellectual, philosophical or spiritual terms.
There we are.
And here we are, you and me, writer and reader, professor and student.
And that is what history is all about, to make sense of our present state, our present condition, through the study of our individual and collective pasts.
How did we arrive here in our present condition?
Why do we find ourselves – as individuals, as members of a family, as students of a university, as residents of a town, a county, a state, as citizens of a nation, as inhabitants of a world – how do we find ourselves here, in this place, today?
At high school and college commencements, we invariably hear graduation speakers quoting from Dr. Seuss’ last book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go”:
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Dr. Seuss seems to be more concerned with where one is going, rather than the place where one has already arrived, but “Remember, wherever you go, there you are.”
Booker T. Washington instructed African Americans late in the 19th century to “put down your buckets where you are.”
Jeremiah instructed those exiled Israelites in Babylon to “build houses and plant vineyards,” even as they hoped and prayed to return home in the future.
How often have I missed out on life in the here and now because I sat dreaming on what could be or might be in the future?
We, all of us, are to make the most of our present circumstances, to make contributions wherever we find ourselves right now in the existential moment, whatever our present condition might be.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail.
His namesake, Martin Luther, refused to recant, saying simply, “Here, I stand,” and incited a religious revolution.
If we are to prosper, to lead meaningful lives, we have to decide what we will do with the moment we find ourselves in right now, this very second.
So, put the newspaper down, and “remember, wherever you go, there you are.”
Story by J.Bolin