2016 is not winning any kind of popularity contest lately. The list of celebrity deaths is staggering; I thought maybe we were all just over-reacting so I looked at lists from previous years and, no, this year really does carry an extra celebrity death punch.
But of course, people die every day.
This week, while we were reeling form the loss of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, two of my old friends died as well.
One was my former pastor's wife. Her children were former students; she came to town when her husband was assigned her and when he passed, many many years ago, she decided to stay. Marlene was involved at the church and in community theater as well as education for littles. Her daughter still lives here in town and was here to help her mother as Marlene slid into dementia. That was a big challenge, but then just a week ago, doctors discovered that some physical problems were related to widespread cancer. Very soon after, she passed quietly, her daughter at her side.
Last night, my ex-wife's sister passed away after a five-year battle with cancer. Ann was the very definition of a good-hearted person, kind and decent and yet stronger than people sometimes gave her credit for. She pressed on through marriage, divorce, single parenthood, getting on her own two feet, remarriage, career changes, location changes-- wherever she landed, that place was better for her being there. She was a devoted mother, a loving grandmother, and an exceptional aunt. Her own mother died when she was a teenager; she and my ex-wife have always been the ideal picture of close sisterhood, closer than mere friends could ever be.She had one of the biggest, kindest hearts I've ever known, and she brought love into every room she entered.
These were good women, women who made the world better by being in it.
This week I've been thinking of them. I've been thinking of George Michael and how he turned out to have been a quiet philanthropist, a doer-of-good-deeds in silence. I've been thinking about Carrie Fisher and how her willingness to live her life loud and honest and in public ("I think with my mouth, so I don't lie" is one of my many favorite Fisher quotes) helped make the world a better place. I've been thinking of my friend Susie, who died after her second cancer battle, and how she kept working as long as she could as a high school choral director. She was exhausted and would step outside between classes to throw up, but her feeling was that she would keep living rather than start dying.
I've been thinking of the students I've had who have died, and how they never got to live their lives "later."
People die. The finiteness of our lives is important, because we do not have infinite opportunities to live all the lives we can imagine. At some point we run out of time, out of opportunities to get things done, to invest time and effort in things that matter. At some point we'll be done and people can look at how we've spent our time and render a judgment-- was this a life well-lived or not?
I am always humbled in the face of deaths like these, where we can say, "She died too soon, and she should have had more time, but she made great use of the time she had. She lived her life well. She made people better. She made her part of the world better." That's the goal, the point, the purpose.
You can't take it with you, so you have to pay attention to what you leave behind. That was the horror confronting Scrooge in Christmas Future-- that he would die and leave nothing behind, nothing of value or importance.
Life is too short to tell ourselves that we can be all about grabbing power or money, that we can be miserably rotten people now, but somehow, later, we'll turn it around and start living like a decent person who treats others well. Life is short and "later" is not promised. "Later" is not the time to do better; that is for today, now.
So Godspeed Debby and Carrie and George and Prince and David and Marlene. Great blessed Godspeed, Ann. Thank you for being here and making the best of your time. May we all think of you and take inspiration to make the best use possible of today.