It seems that Death is making the rounds, in dramatic fashion as of late. Last Thursday, while attending the Massanetta Springs Middle School Conference with the PHPC MS Youth in Virginia, we learned of the sudden death of one of the church’s elders, John King. His memorial service was held Monday.
And exactly one week after John’s death, comes the news that Alice Adams Hunter Patterson, the mother of our good friend and colleague Jill Patterson Tolbert (the PCUSA campus minister at Emory) died after a difficult and courageous battle with cancer.
As if that wasn’t enough, along comes this evening’s breaking news story that Michael Jackson, the king of pop, died earlier today after suffering from cardiac arrest. Jackson’s death comes on the heels of this morning’s death of fellow iconic pop culture figure Farrah Fawcett, who was also battling cancer….and Tuesday’s death of beloved Ed McMahon, the beloved sidekick on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, host of “Star Search” (the 80s precursor to American Idol that discovered Brittany Spears and Usher) and the familliar face that would show up in your mailbox to let you know “You may have just won a million dollars with Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes”.
And according to news reports, legendary newsman Walter Cronkite is deathly ill and expected to die in the coming days. I had the privledge of once meeting and interviewing Cronkite while working as a reporter for the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald about 10 years ago. It was a memorable moment that I’ll share in a later post.
Death has a way of stirring up memories and a deep introspection of our own lives. In every moment of dying, we realize that the time for living is so precious and short that we need to make the best of it—love and give of ourselves to those around us, even strangers, as much as possible.
The deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon remind me of different parts of my childhood:
* I was going through the 2nd and 3rd grades when Jackson mania hit–when everyone did the “moonwalk” dance, knew all the words to “Billie Jean”, became Pepsi drinkers and began to secretly want a diamond studded white glove. And folks went absolutely nuts over Jackson’s innovative music videos–never before seen until his arrival on the entertainment stage.
I’ll always remember Jackson’s Halloween classic “Thriller.” It scared the crap out of me! I know, it’s silly to see that video now and think anyone could be scared especially considering how much more graphic music videos and horror movies are these days. But then, at that time, where no one, particularly a 3rd grader, had ever seen a captivating music video…well, let me just say that it sucked me in pretty good.
I truly believed Michael Jackson could turn into a crazy, monstrous ghoul. It didn’t help much that my home at that time had simillar floors and window blinds to the apartment depicted in “Thriller” the apartment in which the ghoulish Jackson and creepy zombie friends tear through to terrorize Jackson’s girlfriend. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
* Although the hit TV show “Charlie’s Angels” had ended its original run by the time I was in elementary school, the practice of syndicating programs had just begun, thus providing an opportunity to discover the three beautiful and bold women spies in reruns. Farah Fawcett grabbed the most attention because of her blonde curls and the way she looked in a red one-piece bathing suit in that single photograph that would be platered on every item around the world. A friend in college had the image of bathing suit Farrah on his shower bathmat. I always laughed everytime I saw it.
* Before 24-hour cable news networks and channels (thus an enormous variety of viewing options) the one show everyone watched every evening was “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and belly laughing sidekick Ed McMahon. If this show was before your time, make sure to Netflix the Carson shows, it still holds up after all these years. I remember watching Carson and McMahon in the late 80s and early 90s before Carson and McMahon retired and handed the reigns over to Jay Leno. They were the funniest comic duo on TV and there hasn’t been a pair like them since. It was hard not to feel good when McMahon let out one of his deep laughs at Carson’s jokes or managed (on rare occassions) to zing ole Johnny. And what about McMahon’s intro: “Heeeerreeeeeeee’s Johnny!” A classic that has been immitated ad nauseum but never matches up to the real thing.
John King, Alice Patterson, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Icons in our communities, our worlds, our lives. People who made an amazing impact on the lives of those around them. And that is much bigger and more powerful than Death.