“Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war. And rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can’t change rule number one.”
– Henry Blake to Hawkeye Pierce in a 1973 episode of M*A*S*H
I should warn you that this edition of “Allison’s Word” is going to be rather depressing, and for that I truly apologize.
“I saw the title and felt depressed already.”
I felt depressed just by typing that title, so I know the feeling. That title shows a word we unfortunately understand here at the end of 2016. That’s because we lost quite a lot of good people in 2016. I mean just look at this list (an incomplete one as I write this if you haven’t heard the news last night/this morning) and you’ll see a lot of familiar names. Names of those we grew up with and idolized. Names of people we may not have grown up with but had long admired and appreciated just the same. Names of those we were just beginning to appreciate. Names of those we watched on TV, saw in the theaters, or rocked out with in our rooms while the stereo was turned up to 11.
And our losing them in 2016 hit us in our collective heart. Hard. Which brings me to the word of this post. And since I’m not dolled up right now and can’t post a pic of me holding up the word (and, really, why would I want to?), I’ll let this apt tweet from Pandora Boxx highlight it instead.
Yeah, the word is “mortality,” and…
“I don’t wanna see that word again.”
It’s a hard word, I know, and I hate to type it again. But that “M” word isn’t so much something we must say or type as it is something we will all have to deal with, directly and otherwise.
“Yeah, keep referring to it as that. ‘The M word.'”
Okay, I’ll try to, but I can’t guarantee it. For sure, we were faced with a lot of news about the, uh, “M” word by virtue of so many famous people’s obituaries in 2016. Why so many? Nobody can point to a chief reason, of course, although there was a passing suggestion… well, more of a reminder, perhaps, near the top of this CBC News article about the “baby boomer” generation. You know what I’m talking about: It was the years after our grandfathers won World War II, when they came home, did a lot of somethin’ somethin’ with our grandmothers, and… boom! Our parents were born.
From our parents’ generation came so much beautiful work. Indelible work, actually, which certainly influenced what we kids did, even though not all of what we did exactly resembled what Mom and Dad did. And it’s what we did and what our parents did that will influence and inspire what our kids and their kids will do in the future. Sadly, those from those older generations leave us one by one. It’s the natural circle of life, yes. But losing those who influenced us by their words and actions — whether they were our blood relatives or just someone we idolized from afar — leaves us, for sure, grateful for all they taught or showed us, but sad to know that they will no longer be able to keep teaching us or directly influencing us, not to mention take pride in us.
“But the part about so many of them leaving us this year. The noteworthy ones…”
Yeah, that needs to be addressed. At least a couple of folks on my Twitter feed commented, basically, “Famous people die every year, so just buck up and deal with it.”
“Oh, that’s cold. Have some respect for the grieving.”
Yeah, but as much as I hated what they had to say, they had a bit of a point. It’s what made me think of that quote from M*A*S*H at the top of this post. We would love for those who gave us so much joy and so much influence to live forever. But the fact is that, sadly, people die. And it’s a set-in-stone rule that we cannot change or reverse, as much as we wish we could do so.
“But so many?”
Well, perhaps it’s less about “so many” and more about “so much.” And when I mean “so much,” I mean so much of a connection that was built between them and us. We owned all of their albums, saw all of their movies, watched all of their shows, or voted for them (or at least what they represented) in every election. But it wasn’t as if we lived next door to them. No, we weren’t necessarily part of their everyday lives. I think George Takei expressed it best in this tweet:
“It was as if they knew us.” Sure, Mom or Dad were with us during our childhood, and they were still around when we became adults and needed their help. But they didn’t know every single thought in our head. Those who entertained us, however, somehow knew the right words or tapped into the right emotions that made us think… hey, that role on the screen is exactly who I am. That song is exactly what I’m thinking. These artists didn’t just perform, they held mirrors that helped us comprehend just how beautiful we really and truly are. When they die, their mirrors are replaced by the windows so many love to use to peer through our lives and pass their unfounded, unintelligent judgement upon us.
“Their work meant so much to us.”
Exactly. The work of those who left us created what could be equivalent to the world’s biggest world, as it were; a shared experience that helped all of us see ourselves better… and helped us see each other in a better way as well.
The shock of their loss leads back to the literal meaning of the “M” word. We remember who they were and why we loved them, but we sometimes find it hard to wrap our minds around the question of, “but why did they have to leave us?” The lives they led, especially if they were short ones, remind us of how fragile our own lives are. It leads us to notice those wrinkles on our faces a little more, not to mention how our gait may be shortening or how harder our hearts may be pumping.
No two people leave this world in the same way. We also don’t know exactly when we will leave this world. Sure, it could ease our minds if we knew those answers, especially if they pertained to us. But if those answers really were so finite, if they applied to each and every one of us, if each and every one of us knew we would reach the age of 100… well, would it mean that we wouldn’t miss those we hold so dear to our hearts when it’s their time to leave this world?
“Not all of us live to see 100 years old, sadly.”
No, we don’t. Which is why Pandora Boxx’s thoughts ring so true, and should for every one of us. Hug someone you love. Tell them you love them. Show care and compassion for others. Let your true talents soar for all the world to see. Live as if there’s no tomorrow. It’s doesn’t mean we will or won’t see tomorrow, but it’s the best way to deal with the fear of mortality. (Sorry I had to use that word again, Disembodied Voice.)
“I forgive you.”
Try to live your lives in a good way. Understand, though, that your kind words and great acts may not guarantee that years will be added to your life… but it’s for sure that life will be added to your years.