Larry called and said that E. Lynn Harris had died. I knew of course already because it had been all over the net. In fact the first time I read it was on someone’s Facebook page.
I was never a big fan of Mr. Harris, I remember reading his first book when he published it himself, Invisible Life, and thinking how much potential he had. Then he went to a big publishing house and I read the second one and thought that it was trite. There may have been a third book of his that I read but I can’t recall. I felt that he had sold out and I had long lost interest in his work by that time which listening to his last interview on NPR this year, he knew already.
When I was young my grandmother would scan the obituaries page in the news paper to see who had gone to glory before she had. She would see a name and recognize the person as Mrs. So & So’s hairdresser’s cousin who had lived 4 blocks up from where she did as a child and who had gone away for a few months when she was 16 and had come back with a new baby sister. Or she would see listed Mr. Such & Such who lived at the end of the street who was a drunk, or a fancy man, or both and used to make her laugh with his antics when she was young. Now granny doesn’t do that anymore. Partly because being almost 90, most of the people that she knew have passed on already and partly because even if she did know them, I’m not sure she’d recognize them. Come to think of it, I’m not sure she’d recognize me and I’m her only grandson.
Instead, I seem to have taken her place when it comes to looking for news of the dead. Of course I don’t actually do the Obits page in the news paper. In fact I don’t think I’ve read a newspaper in about 5 or 6 years now. I mean I do read the Metro that you get at the train station for free, but everybody knows that’s just a glorified excuse for advertising pamphlet. By the time you’ve read headline for each story, you’ve already read a third of whatever it is that they’ve written. What I do is search for names on the web.
This means of course that if you are a nobody like me, you’re probably still alive as far as I’m concerned since there will probably be very little news about you. But if you are a celebrity, a someone worthy of mention on CNN or *choke* Fox then I’ve got you. I‘ll be able to tell small stories about how I almost met you or how someone I knew almost met the next door neighbor of yours. I will be able to say this, that and the other about how my life was changed and how I became a better person or how I found Jesus.
From Maude to Malden, from Richardson to Jackson and from Harris to…I don’t know Cronkite, I will be able to find something to reflect on, and I guess that’s okay with me. At least then I won’t have to mourn for someone I know. I won’t have to grieve over a family member that lifted me up when I was down, or miss a friend that listened to me when no one else would. I can pretend that death happens to other people and not to those I know and love.
And that's the way it is.