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You say 'goodbye' and I say 'hello, hello, hello' 6 min read

You say 'goodbye' and I say 'hello, hello, hello'

Funeral thoughts, 9/11 remembrances, conspiracy theories, and the Beatles are just some of the topics in this week's newsletter.

By Cary Littlejohn

On Saturday, I attended a funeral service today. A woman I didn’t know, that I’d never met, had died, but I was still connected to her. Our occupation, our employer, our reporting beat all represented commonalities.

My feeling in the church was one of out-of-syncness. Of all the people in the church, I was probably the least connected to her. Quite likely the only person there not to know what her voice sounded like. What are you supposed to feel when you don’t know enough to feel anything at all?

But I did feel something. I listened to my boss speak about her friend through a carefully crafted eulogy, and I was moved beyond words.

It was the proximity to genuine emotion that got me. Like when you’re in the presence of a couple that clearly loves one another, it makes you believe in something bigger than yourself.  My boss regaled those in attendance with the skills of a lifelong storyteller. They were small memories in the grand scheme, but they illustrated greater concepts that underscored the love shared between them in their friendship.

It’s probably only natural to think about your own death at a funeral, even if for just a second. I think I have every single time I’ve ever been to one. Saturday’s was no different. For me, it was the thought of what those around me will be feeling in that moment. Will I have someone who who can memorialize me in the way my boss could with her friend? Will I have touched anybody’s life to that degree? Will I have lived a life worthy of such an outpouring of love and emotion?

That is the ugly power of a funeral, its capacity to remind that even in a time of grief we can be selfish. It was so much easier when the grief is second-hand, and you hurt simply because someone close to you hurt enough for two. But I feel like it’s a redeeming kind of selfishness, no worse than a preacher using the opportunity of a funeral to append a sermon to the deceased’s life. It’s a selfishness that yearns for something better, not only for yourself but for those around you – friends, family, loved ones, significant others, strangers and future friends. It has the power to make you want to live in such a way that you’ll be missed when you’re gone. It’s a reminder that life is ultimately short, no matter how many years you’re fortunate enough to get here on this blue marble.

It’s a close as we humans get to the experience of our own funeral. This simple reminder, before our time has come, that our time is coming, and inspiring us to do something more with it. A woman I didn’t know at all gave me that gift today, and through her life and her friendships, I was able to glimpse some of the best things this world has to offer, some of the best we can be to each other.

In a year where so many have died, where we, as a country, have suffered so much loss, that funeral was a powerful testament to the life of a stranger.  Her name was Kathy Brown, and I wish I’d known her.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. On the topic of funeral services and remembrances, this story about the ashes of literary giant Dorothy Parker.

  2. 9/11 again, but how surreal in this current moment? Every three days during the pandemic is costing the U.S. the same number of souls as that fateful day. There are numerous pieces of writing to which we can return, as I’ve written before, but this year, I learned of a new one by Pulitzer-winner Colson Whitehead. I’ve the benefit of majestic views out here in Wyoming, and there’s the common wisdom that nature has an advantage over that which is man-made. But damn if Whitehead’s love letter doesn’t make me yearn for New York City. A portion, for it’s hard to call any of it my favorite over any other part:

    There are eight million naked cities in this naked city -- they dispute and disagree. The New York City you live in is not my New York City; how could it be? This place multiplies when you're not looking. We move over here, we move over there. Over a lifetime, that adds up to a lot of neighborhoods, the motley construction material of your jerry-built metropolis. Your favorite newsstands, restaurants, movie theaters, subway stations and barbershops are replaced by your next neighborhood's favorites. It gets to be quite a sum. Before you know it, you have your own personal skyline.

  3. Sept. 11, a defining moment in world history that took place when I was in seventh grade, was inexplicable to my young mind. For all its ludicrous nonsense, the conspiracy theory-laden “documentary” Loose Change: Second Edition purported to explain things, to provide a why and a how to the madness. I’ve written about it on here before, but there’s been a renewed interest in the film as we deal with the QAnon phenomenon, and Esquire takes a look at the history of the film.

  4. Despite the extreme popularity of Loose Change in the pre-social media world, it pales in comparison to the degree to which QAnon has infected American minds. BuzzFeed News, the serious investigative wing of the organization (not the listicles-and-quizzes content farm), took the extreme, but entirely reasonable, stance that it would henceforth refer to QAnon not as a “conspiracy theory” but as a “collective delusion.”

  5. All of this ugliness in the world seems familiar. Isn’t that crazy? That no matter how bizarro things seem, we can almost always find some connection to the past. In this case, the similarities are seen in the recent past. In Sept. 2009, John Jeremiah Sullivan marched with and reported on some of the goings-on of the Tea Party for GQ. I thought about one particular passage from the piece, especially as I see and hear more and more comments on the racial unrest in our country and the merits of Black Lives Matter coming from the extremely white citizens of this extremely white city in extremely white Wyoming who insist they’re not racist.

    “For the first time in our history, a black man lives in the White House, and today's is the first massive protest against his administration, and 99.9999 percent of us are white and fan-followers of race-baiting pundits—and mind you, this is in America, where you can't walk into a convenience store without having or witnessing at least three intense, awkward, occasionally inspiring moments of racial tension—but despite all of that, today has "nothing to do with race." This phenomenon will be known to future Americans as "the Race Miracle of 9/12."

  6. Watch the new trailer for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which premiered during one of the football games on Sunday. Aaron Sorkin writing and directing and all-star cast for Netflix. It should be fun.

  7. I saw a live music performance on Friday. It was a Beatles vs. Rolling Stones show, where tribute bands that travel the country “compete” against each other by playing three sets each of the hits you know all too well. It was a commonly held opinion that the Beatles won the night. It just so happened that Rolling Stone recently featured a cover story about how the famous band fell apart and why it still matters 50 years later.

  8. This New Yorker profile of Joe Biden is more than a revealing look at a fundamentally decent man, but it’s a thorough recap of pretty much everything political that’s happened in this year that’s been sucked into the black hole known as COVID-19.

  9. Ed Yong still trying to educate Americans on the pandemic, so it seems pretty certain he’s in no jeopardy of losing his job in the near future. His work is can’t-miss stuff. Here’s his ninth and final entry on a list of conceptual errors Americans continue to make:

    9. The Habituation of Horror

    The U.S. might stop treating the pandemic as the emergency that it is. Daily tragedy might become ambient noise. The desire for normality might render the unthinkable normal. Like poverty and racismschool shootings and police brutalitymass incarceration and sexual harassmentwidespread extinctions and changing climate, COVID-19 might become yet another unacceptable thing that America comes to accept.

  10. The Athletic is expanding its golf coverage, just in time for the U.S. Open this week.

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