Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Hard Part rerun death

I've been away from my computer, partly by circumstances, partly by choice. I had a nice tribute to my husband for Father's Day mostly written when I heard that sound that MSNBC puts on when something important has happened.

Since September 11, 2001, when I'm in the house, the television set is on, usually tuned to one of the news channels. It's mostly just part of the background noise for me as I do something else. I usually just sit down to watch the late afternoon pundits banter about Hillary and Barack and my friend John McCain. The real reason I have it on, though, is that I am still hypervigilant, afraid I'll be surprised again at horrific news events like I was on that brilliant September morning. Stuff happens all the time. There are floods and fires and crazies firing at strangers from overpasses. There are babies missing, perverts caught and tried. Our own local politicians are caught doing things they shouldn't be doing and get hauled off to fancy federal facilities for a few years. Once in a while, though, it's just too much.

Strangely, the sudden death of one of my television friends, Tim Russert, was one of those things that was just too much. It's odd how I can be so numbed to the fact that thousands are killed in an earthquake or that dozens are dying in the bad weather we've had this summer, or that the numbers of soldiers they cite daily as battle losses is ever growing, and still feel the loss of one guy I never met so strongly.

I guess it was because it was Father's Day weekend and that Mr. Russert left behind not just a son, but a father, that added to the enormity of this loss. It just all seemed too sad.

We packed up and went to the lake as planned. There was no real reason not to. I wasn't involved in any way with this guy or his family, but my husband and I turned on MSNBC as soon as we got to the lake to watch the continuing coverage of a good son and a better father.

The next morning, I was reading a book--more about dying, this time the plague deaths in a small village in England--waiting for the signal from my husband that it was time to drive him down to the neighbor's ramp to put the boat in the water. I got lost in the wonderfully written Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, but after a while it began to seem that I had been waiting an awfully long time.

I looked out the front window and saw Walker and his dad scrubbing and vacuuming the old pontoon. They could have been any father and son, doing what needed to be done--together. By lunch time the two guys came in, hot and sweaty, but both proud of the spic and span boat all ready for launch. Walker gave an embarassed smile and nod of his head when his dad praised him for sticking with the job so long. I went down to the local grocery shack and got burgers for all, and that afternoon we had a wonderful time riding around the mostly quiet lake, pulling Walker on Big Bertha. This day he didn't belt out patriotic songs as he rode. He just enjoyed the ride and we did too.

I don't suppose it would be possible to be equally sad for every family at every death or I'd be wearing widows weeds year round. I found that out when I was doing Pastoral Care for my church. Eventually you just realize that it's not a matter of if, but when and how we die. More importantly, it's a matter of how we live.

I'm not sure Mr. Russert would have approved of his MSNBC family having all Tim Russert all the time for almost a week. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one who eventually turned away from the endless loop of footage just because it was too sad. I did learn that he took time to honor his father and his son while he was still alive. Would that we all could do that. I found a copy of his book, Big Russ and Me, on the shelf at the lake. I brought it home to read.

I hope I continue to learn from others about how to live, as well as how to die. That's the hard part.


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