Began to compose social media post about David Bowie dying then thought “the world doesn’t need to hear my thoughts on David Bowie dying”This gets you +224 points on The Good Place
We, the social media generation, often react to the deaths of famous people (who are, in reality, strangers to us) as an order to sit in judgment over their lives. Often this is positive, sometimes it’s not. Either way, it seems arrogant. I have my own bubble, so I tend to agree with the final judgements passed on the formerly living, but regardless, I’m usually, like, “why?” What is the point of this? Is there anyone reading your post who doesn’t already know why you think Donald Rumsfeld or Rush Limbaugh is a bad person? What’s the motivation? To get more angry “likes”? Or dull hearts? I dunno. Even the generic praise seems boring and unhelpful. I can get interested in people’s artistic or spiritual connection to folks they don’t actually know: the Prince album that got them through their coming out period; the Joan Didion book that weirdly made them feel seen, but more often I just skip over these so-called tributes.
This is, of course, prelude to writing my own…
I rarely respond to celebrity deaths in writing – maybe 3 in the last 5 years – but quite a few hit the press in quick succession last week, and at this moment I feel inspired to celebrate the good they brought into the world, or into my particular little life, now that their active contributions have ended. Yay, humans! In that spirit, here is a tiny tribute to these guys:
- Bob Saget
- Louie Anderson
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Bob Saget’s reputation was huge among comedians, a group with which I’ve had perhaps too much interaction. Folks seem to agree that he was a good guy, and who doesn’t want to know that a celebrity is a good guy? Right on, Bob. I know little of his work, but I lovelovelove good standup comedy, and profane standup is typically my favorite standup. I believe pushing people out of their comfort box is not only okay, but important; that addressing issues and ickiness that people don’t want to talk about opens our minds and even our hearts; that finding the humor in the horror is finding light in the darkness and that nothing is “off limits,” if it’s done right. As Wavy Gravy said, “if you don’t have a sense of humor, it just isn’t funny.” The Comedian as Court Jester has probably never been more important than it is right now. Perhaps never less important, either. When is speaking comic truth to power unimportant? Saget followed in a centuries-old tradition of Jews and others who laugh to keep from crying.
Meatloaf. Ah, Meatloaf. Lots of folks have referenced his embarrassing show of Trump support several years back, but if you’re getting your political guidance from Meatloaf, I don’t know what to tell ya. Let me instead evoke the sweet, goofy, steroid-enhanced, testicle-free, ex-wrestler he played in Fight Club. Robert Paulsen is the most compassionate and lovable character in the movie, and admirable in a sea of toxicity: a burly man who holds space for other men to cry; a goofy and loyal friend; a person who can fight without anger, hatred, or guile; a character whose death is the warning light that things have gone too far, the trigger for the protagonist to battle back to consciousness and self-awareness. (Oh, and a friend in the music business who worked with him said he was a kind man, if you need that topper.)
I liked what I knew of Louie Anderson’s standup, though he wasn’t one of my faves. I heard good things about him personally once I moved to his home state (good guy!). But he really grabbed me in an interview with Terri Gross several years ago. I just fell for him. There was a sweetness, mindfulness, and openness about him that was so gentle and refreshing, and so aligned with how I want to approach the world. It was that, more than anything else, that led me to start watching Baskets. And Baskets is where I fell in love with Louie, as Christine Baskets, who is one of my favorite characters ever. She is subtly hilarious, but broke my heart repeatedly. She’s bold and strong and sensitive and loving and sometimes misguided; her vulnerability and strange generosity is beautiful and devastating. A less compassionate actor could have easily made her a joke; Louie made her an suburban American warrior.
And then there’s Thich Nhat Hanh. (I think I can leave out the character assessment for this one.) I can’t possibly begin to pay tribute to perhaps the most influential Buddhist monk of our time. (I know most would say the Dalai Lama, but in my spiritual world, Thay was more directly inspiring.) If you have a spiritual practice or inclination and don’t know him, check out some interviews or one of his scores of books. Although I am not a religious Buddhist, he’s been a huge influence on me. Not only through the many teachers I’ve learned from who started their journeys with this sweet-voiced little Vietnamese man, but because he lived the practice of and apparently invented the phrase “engaged Buddhism”, which I’ve been actively studying for the past year, and hope to commit to for as long as I’m still on the list of life. He stood up to conservative and monastic Buddhism before it was fashionable and spent much of his life trying to make the teachings understandable and accessible to the Western world, in a way our ilk could understand. He opened a path to liberation from our materialist, consumptive culture, our mindless anger, and our blind selfishness. To Hanh, mindfulness necessarily encompasses not only our own “selves” but our interdependent world, and right action necessarily includes the work to help alleviate suffering wherever one finds it. I know a lot of people have a hard time with death, and this post is, let’s face it, inspired by death, so let me close with this wise man’s words on the topic: