Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Death on my mind

It all started with the death of Frank Melton. As stunning as that was to me, it could not prepare me for what has happened in the following weeks. As a child growing up, "Kung Fu" was one of my favorites TV shows, so I was saddened by the death of David Carradine. It was always my ambition to be old enough to stay up late to watch "The Tonight Show, so to hear about the passing of Ed McMahon was sad as well.

Then came June 25, 2009. Waking up that morning the news was telling the world that Farrah Fawcett had died. Courageous in her later life as she was beautiful, Fawcett's death was clearly a milestone moment for I remember as a budding teenager how captivating was her beauty. It didn't matter that she was white and I was Black, she was fine, and it seemed the whole world was in agreement. It is hard to believe she was only on "Charlie's Angels" for a season, because of the lasting impression she made on every young male mind.

Then, that afternoon, as I was Tweeting, I came across breaking news that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital, collapsing from an apparent heart attack. Heart Attack? MJ? Now I could deal with McMahon at 86, Carradine at 72, and at least we were prepared for Fawcett, 62, since she made it known she was dying of cancer. But Michael Jackson was 50, just six years my senior. It did not take long for my fear to be realized as very shortly Jackson was pronounced dead. Then Billy Mays, 49, the most watched man on television, suddenly died.

All of this dying just compounded the fact that I had buried my fraternity brother, Demetrius "Skip" Mason, 46, the week before. Next, the mother of a good friend, Carolyn Parker, finally lost her battle with cancer. Then yesterday, I found out that my high school principal, Dr. Patrick Ahern died. It is just overwhelming.

We all know that death is a part of life. It can be in your face, like the violent death of Neda Agha Soltan, who has become another martyr of oppression, or subtle as the death of a loved one in their sleep. For those of us in the Christian faith, we believe it is the last chapter of mortality and the first part of immortality. However, it is a painful marker in this journey called life. Jesus even wept when he had heard of Lazarus' passing.

When I use to send out official bereavement letters to constituents, I would always remind them of what the Psalmist said, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." It is a passage often referred to in times of grief to remind us that we still have life and that we should be glad, for we truly do not know when our time is coming.

Nevertheless, it still can be overwhelming when you are constantly being reminded of how old you are and how fragile life is. It motivates you to get in shape, until that first holiday binge, and then you are back to your old habits. It causes you to reflect on precious childhood memories and makes you realize how long that has really been. It gives a moment to reflect on how good you have it, until someone makes you angry or disrespects you.

Basically, it is a brief check-up from the neck up. It is placed on your mind so that you will never forget that your turn is coming. The question then becomes what will you do to prepare for it. Living life to the fullest and making funeral arrangements are not what I am talking about though. I am talking about what are you doing today to hear the phrase, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

What crosses are you willing to bear in this life? What sacrifices are you willing to make in this life? How many lives are you, personally, willing to positively impact, in this life? That is how you prepare for death. Making a decision to change the world as we know it, one person at a time.

There is a stanza in a Michael Jackson song that states, "I'm looking at the man in the mirror/I'm asking him to change his ways." If you have been selfish in your ambition, it is time to change your ways. If you have not done anything to reach out and help your fellow man, it is time to change your ways. If you have not made the effort reconcile your spiritual life, it is time to change your ways.

When I die, thousands of people will not leave flowers on my doorstep or attend the funeral. It probably will not be mentioned on the national news or featured on any magazines covers. But that is alright with me. As long as I hear those fateful words from God, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, well done," I would have accomplished what I wanted to do on my short trip in this world.

Death is on my mind, but it is not a burden. It is a goal, a deadline, to do what I need to do. I hope others can overcome their fear of death and look at it in the same way.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not take this time to say thank you to the aforementioned names. Thank you for the good that you did, for me personally and beyond, and thanks for the reminder for me to keep my house in order until it is my time to join you "in the sweet by and by."