April 14, 1998
A graphic artist worked hard to reach his goal of landing a cover on Fortune magazine. Finally it happened and he joyfully celebrated. However, within a week while standing on a street corner, he saw a garbage truck drive by on its way to the dump. It was filled with outdated issues of Fortune magazine, his artwork on its cover.
Creative people dream large goals but artists, writers and others who create things must understand one reality: what we produce will not necessarily outlive us.
A wise man once said, “Of the making of books, there is no end.” That holds true for all sorts of commodities. Even though precious few paintings are preserved as masterpieces and few books are collected as classics, no matter what we design or manufacture, most of our creative efforts appear for a time then they are “out of print” and fade into oblivion.
Creative people also struggle with “revising and editing.” A first sketch or a first draft is rarely the best an artist or a writer can do. Well-known artists often wipe off the canvas and start over. Famous authors revise their manuscripts six, eight, ten or even more times. Long after their work is produced, displayed or published, there is often a sense that “I could have done better.”
When anyone dreams big or tries to make their work the best they can possibly do, they exemplify a worthy goal for their personal lives. Yet how often we look back with regret at the life we have lived and say, “I could have done better.”
Ben Franklin may have felt something like that when he wrote the following epitaph for his own tomb, but notice the ending: “The Body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an Old Book, Its Contents Torn Out, Stripped of Its Lettering and Gilding, Lies Here, Food for Worms. Yet the Work Itself shall not be Lost; for it will, as He Believed, Appear once More in a New and More Beautiful Edition, Corrected and Amended by The Author.”
Franklin is right; life is a lot like the writing of a book. In the first draft, we construct a lifestyle that feels right, quickly laying down the foundation. Then we begin to revise, realizing that success demands more than a just quick pass.
As the work progresses, we discover there is far more to “good copy” than what can be seen on the surface. We begin editing and revising at a deeper level, perhaps refining our souls. Like a writer, the honest person also realizes that the work of improving is a never-ending task; just when we are satisfied, we see more flaws that need correcting.
Benjamin Franklin obviously thought about life more deeply than the average ambitious person. He knew that no matter how hard he worked, his body would eventually succumb to decay. After his life was over, then what?
Franklin, like many others, looked beyond success in this life to the promises of God. He found that through faith in Christ, he could live forever, in a new body, with God, where death has no power. He also realized that God would do a major revision, deleting all his errors.
Franklin may have read the Bible verses that say, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day . . . . We know that if the earthly tent we live in (our bodies) is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands . . . .”
He likely found another place that says when we go to heaven “we will be like Jesus,” all typos corrected, all subjects and objects in agreement, every comma in the right place. As Franklin said, we will be a new edition, corrected and amended by the One who created us and who will totally restore us — a far superior fate than being carted off to a garbage dump.