Reacting to a fellow journalist’s inquiry over a widely circulated rumor, famous Missourian Samuel Clemens once wrote, “the report of my death is an exaggeration.”
Of course, the man we all know as Mark Twain was no more dead than a songbird in spring when he penned that line for the New York Journal in June of 1897 (which has since been frequently incorrectly re-printed in multiple forms).
Likewise, I was still alive and kicking a couple of weeks ago when word circulated in parts of Texas County that I wasn’t. Yep, to a handful of people I was considered a memory for at least a while; I know because I was approached by someone who had heard from someone who heard from someone that “Doug is dead.”
After asking around a bit, I determined the rumor had surely started due to the death of a local man whose name was quite similar to mine. While I was sorry he had passed and hoped his family members would look to God for strength and comfort, I was nonetheless OK with still being around.
Having a friend shake my hand and say, “boy, am I glad to see you,” and then finding out he said that because a few days earlier he was unsure I was alive, was a pretty impactful moment. And naturally, the next few days presented a set of thoughts and feelings I hadn’t experienced before.
We all (bar none) take the gift of life for granted, but when faced with no longer being able to retain that gift, we inevitably become humbled and reflective. When you and death are closely associated, it’s impossible not to stop and think.
“What’s long enough?”
“What’s good enough?”
I, for one, am completely comfortable with the fact that the Lord both gives and takes away (as the Bible says in Job 1:21). In turn, I’m content knowing that when my God-given time is up, I’m out – no matter what.
I know I’m not in control of when I exit terrestrial existence and I realize my Earthly situation is temporary (as is everyone else’s). And that’s no problem; I didn’t
make this world or this reality and I’m just grateful the one who did is allowing me to be part of them for a while.
But no matter how content a person might be with the big picture, it’s still odd to be faced with pondering death.
It’s pretty final, you know, and when it happens you aren’t going to make that trip to Costa Rica, finish that garden project, see your favorite aunt again or watch the playoffs.
It’s like, that’s it. Thanks for your time. I hope you enjoyed your stay and we enjoyed having you.
My premature demise was obviously bandied about by only a scant few folks, but there are plenty of examples of alleged, but untrue, early exits of famous people like Mr. Twain, whose rumored deaths gained a bunch of attention.
Probably one of the best is that of Paul McCartney, who burst onto the American rock and roll scene in the early 1960s as a singer, songwriter and bass player for the Beatles. Most of us who are ancient enough will remember the claim that when the classic “Strawberry Fields Forever” (from the September 1969 release “Abbey Road”) was played backward, fellow Beatle John Lennon’s voice could be heard saying, “I buried Paul.”
Conspiracy theorists claimed the deceased McCartney was replaced by a look-alike and the band continued its incredible run without missing a step. Maybe.
Lennon later said the backward phrase was actually “cranberry sauce,” and McCartney is still going strong many decades later (whether the original or doppelganger, who’s to say?). I’m guessing the salty Lennon was just playing along and there was really no deep hidden message in the reverse version of that Beatles song, let alone any other. I’m also guessing the Paul who went on to “McCartney and Wings” fame is the same Paul who wrote and sang “Yesterday” and “Penny Lane.”
Maybe not, but you name the odds and I’ll take the bet.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure if you played back a tape in reverse from the handheld voice recorder I use for interviewing story subjects, you’re more likely to hear something like “Wally is cool” than “I buried the reporter.” I understand my time might arrive today, but it didn’t a few weeks ago and that’s fine with me. I feel like there are things left to do – God willing.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.