Alexandra Petri: According to William Barr, death is inevitable, legacies are meaningless

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, middle, smiles during a light moment when listening to concerns raised about public safety in rural Alaska during at a roundtable discussion at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. Barr did not take questions from reporters in his first public appearance after former special prosecutor Robert Mueller spoke to reporters after resigning at the completion of his report into Russian interference into the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

“Everyone dies and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”

William P. Barr, asked about his legacy as attorney general

Everyone dies. This much is known.

I am a meat puppet wrapped for a brief time around a ghost, dragged from one point to another by forces beyond my control.

Afterward? I do not care what Homer says, that songs bring immortality. We are, when we are gone, only imperfectly recollected dust. One must not dwell on this.

Even before death, we die many times, little unmarked farewells, things that will simply never be seen or done by us again, words that will never be linked with our names another time, though we do not notice their departing until after they are absent: reverence, duty, honor. Our bodies grow lighter and heavier than we were accustomed. Our names carry a different weight in the public mouth. They echo at a different angle. Imperceptibly we bid farewell to all that we are. Our faces become unrecognizable. The words we speak lose their meaning. We become our own ghosts.

The body is replaced many times before it is entirely gone. By the final replacement, we have ceased to notice. The atoms we would miss have not been there for years. We are a walking vacancy in place of a person. At first the replacement is a replenishment, and then it becomes a sapping — of our strength, our beauty, our wisdom, everything we are. But there is no way to direct it not to happen. So it does not do to mark or measure these changes. You are, and then you cease to satisfy, and then you die. There is no room for regret. Let the dead past bury its dead.

Ultimately, does anything we say or do echo even for a moment? Is any legacy more than a collection of imperfect sketches of an object already fled too far to grasp? Memory is an act that must take place in time, but the living are too greedy to remember. There is no legacy. There can be no legacy.

I have been to the desert. I have seen the ruin that is all that remains of the works of men.

The wrack is coming for us. The great oblivion encroaches daily. It will sweep away all our petty fortifications against time and make mockery of all our noblest works. We are dust. Only the cockroaches will remain. And to them our memorials will be illegible.

They will remember nothing of all these monuments of meat.

That is why I have been proud to serve as Donald Trump's attorney general.

Alexandra Petri | The Washington Post

Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of “A Field Guide to Awkward Silences.”