Sunday, September 9, 2007

Food and Faith Sunday: Thoughts on the Obituary.

Everyday, in the morning paper, I find myself reading one or two of the thirty-odd obituaries. I’m not sure why I do this but I do. I have wondered if it is for the simple reason of wanting to see if someone whom I know has died; that has happened only twice in twenty years, so I think it must be something else. But more on that later.
The ritual begins by glancing at the black-ink only photographs and then reading the detail of the two or three pictures that catch my eye.
Today, I read the brief stories of three lives: a World War II veteran whose picture is from his younger uniformed days, a handsome, round-faced, black preacher, and a middle-aged mom who died of cancer, survived by a long list of family and friends. These and most obituaries have an abbreviated sadness in the writing, but not always. One recent obituary registered the young man’s nickname as “Cheeseburger”. He looked like someone you would call “Cheeseburger”. I liked him immediately and read about his life-abbreviated. I am sorry to say that every day there are pictures of the unfortunate young, sixteen to thirty years of age. It is painful to look into the photographed eyes of an eighteen year old girl, who is happy and hopeful, but who has ended this life prematurely.
“Mary, Mother of God pray for her”.

I also read and save obituaries of famous people, or unusual people, or people I have admired, or some just because the story is written well. Like Garrison Keillor’s memoir of JFK Jr., whose untimely death in 1999 made national news. I have newspaper clippings with the obituaries of Cardinal O’Conner, the archbishop of New York, Fr. William “Buzzy” O’Neill, my high school religion teacher and retired football coach, who taught us about religion and how to run football's draw play. Alec Guinness, the actor, Guy Boccacile, a friends father that I knew and who knew opera as it was performed in the old country, and Jacky Worth, a childhood and lifelong friend. Bulldog Turner and Angelo Bertelli, two old football players who lived colorful lives the kind that are frowned upon today. And just recently, Luciano Pavarotti, the world's greatest tenor and Madelaine Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time. May they both rest in peace.
One sets aside ones political and philosophical bents in obituaries because death is the final event before the dark glass in this world becomes clear in the next. It’s when we admit that our foe was also a friend, we just never told him. Or maybe that he was a sonofabitch, but that he was our sonofabitch.
I guess that’s the reason I like them, they allow us to submit to the old dictum that love covers a multitude of sins. Obituaries are announcements of death and last public declarations of affection and appreciation; but there is more than function that draws the casual reader. They are a way of knowing someone and of conversing with someone otherwise unknown even if that knowing and conversation is one way. For now.

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