Sunday, March 15, 2009

the obituary channel

Yesterday, on the way in to work, I was listening to a public radio program called, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" It's a show full of news and humor and whimsy and it makes me laugh now and then.

During yesterday's segment, the moderator made mention of a new TV project someone had come up with -- the obituary channel. It wasn't entirely clear how it would work, and there was a good deal of joking around about it, but between the lines, it sounded like a viable idea to me: People's lives are interesting ... so ... why not tell their tales, if only after the fact?

I have always been a lover of stories. I suppose I love them because they inform me and 'take me away,' suggesting, as they do, other possibilities, other ways of seeing things, other aspects, other loves, other idiocies, other ... well, just other something-or-others that I can ingest and perhaps be nourished by.

But stories are invariably lies as well. They are second-hand renditions of something that, for someone, is true in experience, even when that experience is just a whimsical mind. No story ever told the truth. Trust me, I've tried to tell the truth with words and it just doesn't work.

But the fact that stories and words are lies doesn't mean they can't be or aren't useful. Simultaneously, just because they are useful doesn't mean they are true. Stories, to my mind, are items in which anyone might find usefulness while sidestepping the pitfall of believing they are true.

The obituary channel. Imagine that. Some day, perhaps you or I might be featured. We too might turn into a story. And when you think about it -- despite all the fear and aversion that might arise -- maybe you could wonder: Who could every get our stories right? Who could ever tell the truth? What words would ever cover all the bases?

And, since no one else will ever get it right, don't you think you should get it right yourself? ... alive or dead -- get it right? Tell the truth that no story could ever tell?


Listening to the radio on the way to work was later coupled with a phone call to my 92-year-old mother in New York. She is recovering from a bout of bronchitis and it was difficult for her to talk. Her hearing is going. Her vision is going. And now her talking was going as well.

At her age, death is no longer so spooky. It is more a gentle invitation than a threat and she said she had been thinking of dying. And yet, from within the fragility of her losses and fadings, she summoned up the energy to make a haltingly energetic connection with me: "Don't feel guilty," she said. "Don't feel sad. Just do what you are doing."

A nice blessing for all of us, I imagine.

Or anyway, that's my story.

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