I’ve been reading obituaries. If you don’t want to read any more news about Covid 19, the economy or our president, the obits, with some exceptions, turn out to be almost as safe as the comics or the nostalgia-driven sports pages. Mention of “complications from the coronavirus” is mentioned only in news stories, it turns out, and not the family-approved writings put out by funeral homes. No one wants their loved ones remembered more for what killed them than what they achieved during their lifetime.
I’ve written my share of obits. The trick, I learned early on, was to edit out emotion and allow the weight of a life to come through a timeline that inevitably includes parents, education, employment, survivors, and the occasional hobby or extracurricular activity that came to define someone’s existence.
I’m looking through the papers. Lynda Marie, 59, was “blessed with the bluest of eyes, a beautiful smile and a spirited personality: as well as the ability to take on all challenges. She had previously lost her husband, would be missed by aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.” Dominic, 85, worked as a toll collector on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, loved playing cards, going to the casino, doing scratch-offs, and watching television, “He was an avid bowler and golfer and enjoyed camping and hunting back in the day.” He loved everyone he met and had a way of expressing his joy “with his hands.”
Strivers and overachievers? No. Missed, and impactful in their own ways? Apparently.
I’ve contemplated a project called Losing the Moon, a collection of pieces I’ve written, re-edited and conjoined. The underlying idea is that we’re likely to fail when we tackle great dreams. History needn’t be written solely by the winners. There’s glory in simply trying to shoot the moon.
I had met a young man from Tonawanda who worked at the Catskill McDonald’s and ran with a crystal-meth crowd after his mom split town without saying where she was growing. Man, he had spirit. He’d come east to train at Cus D’Amato’s gym and maybe to straighten out his life the way Mike Tyson had. We talked for hours. Soon afterwards, he realized that none of the great trainers were around any more, got fired, and disappeared.
I’ve worked with political dreamers who gained and then lost office, writers with great contracts lost to lingering resentments, men and women forever broken by failed relationships, a guru who never found a following. How close to the sun they’d all soared before losing their wings. All are in me somewhere, souls ennobled by having lost the moon.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.