Legacies are a hard thing to manage. Especially your own.
After we die, we lose control of who we were. We become subject to memories and stories, myths and legends. Our lives are at the mercies of those who remember.
Death sets us free from the constraints of a mediocre life.
In life, you might have been a mediocre person. Office hours, one shirt for every day of the week, that one beer for relaxing on Friday nights, the occasional party goer who only stays for a little bit. In death, you are remembered with reverence, that one joke you told at that one dinner with a group of four friends is repeated at every mention of your name.
In death, you become a legend, a patron saint of your friends and family.
Unless you are Lei Feng.
He sits across the cafe table from me, slowly stirring his tea, watching the milk swirl.
I don’t even know who I was. The me I am, the me I’ve been turned in to, he’s fictional. Yet, he’s more believable than the real me.
I was trying to direct a truck, help it back up. It hit a tree. The tree hit me. I was young. Twenty-two years old. Just a kid.
They tried to make me a national hero.
His eyes fill with a sadness I can’t find the words to describe. He looks lost. Like a shadow of someone who might have been. He looks like someone who would introduce himself as Once-I-Was Lei Feng.
They hijacked my legacy. I never wanted to be anything special. I was an orphan. And you know what? I was okay with that. I wanted to blend in. Fade into the background.
They stole that from me.
They use me for their own agendas. They make me out to be the Chinese Captain America. A freedom fighter, the poster boy for communism.
I just wanted to be an anonymous figure in the background.
He finishes his tea and gently sets the cup down. He still looks young but he moves slowly, like the weight of a nation is fighting against him.
Lei Feng is stuck in a cultural upheaval. Some tout him as a glorious communist, others a shameful piece of propaganda.
Lei Feng just wants to be Lei Feng.
Is that too much to ask?