Thoughts Occasioned By the Death of Tim Russert

Tim Russert seemed to me a young man, but, in fact, he lived two years longer than Abraham Lincoln and, no doubt, to a teenager, he must have appeared ancient. It seems a tragedy when a vigorous man with much to live for clocks out at age 58, but in many ways, age is a poor measure; age is a poor measurement of a person, a poor measurement of a life. The shortness of a life as measured in years is not what makes life a tragedy and the elongation of a life to many additional years is not what makes life blessed.

I like the analogy given in the psalm that says a blessed person is like a tree by still waters. Trees can be magnificent and awesomely beautiful and every tree starts as a seed that contains and directs all of its potential. How the growth of that seed occurs, what nurtures and encourages that growth, are important questions not just for arborists but for teachers and parents as well. A blessed person is the person who grows into who he or she is.

I like the latest theory of the universe — at least as I heard it halfway listening to the PBS program — that even now as the universe, the macrocosm, expands and its elements separate from each other at dizzying speeds, eventually, at its demise, all the stars and planets themselves will also become infinitely divided and even at the microcosmic scale, the atoms themselves will disintegrate. We are dust in the wind and as it turns out, according to this theory, eventually we will be not even that, not dust, not even the atoms that make dust. There will be no cold planets and burned out stars floating about; there will be perfect obliteration, down to the subatomic level. There is something strangely comforting about that idea.

The question asked by Sunday’s sermon at the Methodist Church was, “What Will You Be Remembered For?”. Thought provoking. But probably the wrong question. If the point is to generate positive memories of one’s self, then having a good publicist and destroying incriminating evidence might be a good strategy. Building an enormous monument to oneself, promoting your name and promulgating your greatness, a strategy used throughout history, might seem a good idea also. Every two-bit dictator shamelessly promotes a cult glorifying his personality and if the “Dear Leader” is remembered with affection or adoration for a few years, it only proves his propaganda machine worked. To ask, “What Will You Be Remembered For?”, to me seems the wrong question because purpose or value in life is not indicated reliably by memory. Memory, in fact, is most likely wrong, and memory, like the universe, fades and eventually disappears.

In “Back to Methuselah,” G.B. Shaw suggests that a person needs 1000 years to accomplish a completed life. This seems reasonable since mankind, in fact, is much more wondrous than trees and a tree may take 200 years to achieve its most beautiful form. And, it makes you wonder: How many billions of years does the universe need? I turn around and another ten years have passed. On the cosmic scale, I imagine ten or twelve billion years can get by before you know it, and what has been accomplished?

I knew a child from birth who suffered from cystic fibrosis and who died at age 21, a beautiful girl with a special blessing: a beautiful spirit. Everyone who knew her understood that her life would be short, but grieved that she could not be the rare case and remain with us until age 30 or even 40. Yet, in her 21 years, she accomplished a lot.

My parents both lived to be 85 years old, a long life anyone might say, but I found how brief 85 years actually is, how much too soon they were taken, and how it was, in their soul and spirit, regardless of their failing bodies, they were blessed, so young, so vibrant, so alive — like strong and beautiful trees. I imagine that the children of Methuselah might have felt the same.

Humans don’t need 1000 years, because the life of the soul is not measured in hours or eons, but by a different reality altogether. So, 1000 years is meaningless, as is 85 years, or 21 years, or, 58 years — because the growth of the soul into its potential is not a function of time, and not predicted by age. And, so it is, some children in their spirit are much more developed than most adults.

Much is riding on the fruition of humanity. The universe itself, hurtling to its own demise, I believe, finds its purpose in the flowering of the potential found in humans. My mom, when I was a child, used to show me a flower and say, “If you listen, you can hear it talking to you.” I heard her repeat that theme to her grandchildren many times, and I believe it is true. Everything is alive and with a consciousness that is beyond our understanding. The hills clap their hands and the universe itself rejoices when magnificent trees extend their branches.

I will miss you, Tim. Thank you for being you.

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