I’ve managed to get myself into trouble on occasion but never anything so serious that I couldn’t be extricated, more or less intact. I still have all the organs with which I was born and have never, to my knowledge, undergone an operation. I did break my sacrum in a snow machine accident in 1998 and memories of life at that time are coated in a morphine haze. Apart from the odd pain when I stand too long on concrete or sit too long anywhere or lie down for too long … in fact, as long as I keep moving, I’m grand. Had the break been a couple of centimetres higher, though, I might be telling a different story.
I was reminded of my mortality recently when driving the winding roads between Zirc and Pannonhalma (aka Highway 82), in Veszprém country in northwestern Hungary. I passed underneath Csesznek castle and was suitably awed. Built around 1263 AD soon after the Mongol invasion, it changed hands many times, housing the Habsburg troops in the early eighteenth century. The Turks captured it at one stage and then it was won back by Hungary. It managed to get through hundreds of years of conflict to be damaged by a force majeure – an earthquake – in 1810. Sometime later, a fire caused by a lightning strike completely destroyed it. In 1635, Dániel Eszterházy bought the castle and village (nice to be able to think in such terms) and it remained part of the Ezsterházy estate until 1945. It’s been under excavation and restoration since 1967.
On this sunny Sunday in November, I navigated the bends of Route 82 at speed, doing my best impression of Rosemary Smith (I was late for mass…) I love to drive and I love to drive on deserted, winding, country roads in a real car with a manual gearbox. It was an unseasonable 17 degrees and the radio station was playing hits from the 1980s. I was in heaven. Late or not, I had to stop to take a quick photo of the imposing castle. It was then that I noticed that someone else hadn’t been so lucky. Losing a life, any life, to the roads, is a sad thing, especially when nine times of out ten, it could have been avoided.
I was struck by the juxtaposition of the twelfth-century castle on the hilltop, testifying to the durability of medieval architecture and construction and the modern-day monument on the roadside testifying to the fragility of life and twenty-first-century living. I started to think of legacies and what we leave behind and was reminded of something I read somewhere about legacies, deeds, and monuments. I tracked it down:
If I have done any deed worthy of remembrance, that deed will be my monument. If not, no monument can preserve my memory.
I wonder how right Agesilaus II was. I think of how statues are torn down, destroyed or relocated on the whim of political or national fervour. I see neglected graves in cemeteries everywhere, no-one left to remember or to care. And I wonder.
This week, I’m inclined to be grateful that I made it to mass on time… and in one piece. While I doubt that given such a road again I’d drive more sedately, at least I might be a little more aware of the possible consequences. And I’ll certainly be giving more thought to legacies and good deeds.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52