Why I find reading obituaries educational, but also inspiring.


“Frederic Schwartz, 63, Dies; Designed Sept. 11 Memorials”; NY Times Obituary Section.

Don’t worry, this is not a case of a fascination, and/or obsession with death or the macabre; although as a middle school student I had a tremendous affection and devoured everything Edgar Allen Poe (okay, psychoanalyst, go for it!:-) In fact, over the years I have lost much of my interest in the fantastical, mythological and “unscientific-science fictional” novels; as I have also lost interest in the novel in general. I now find myself (with a few exceptions, i.e. Edwidge Danticat); seriously inclined, when reading for pleasure, toward historical, political and biographical works. I don’t read “daily death notices”; which many people confuse with an obituary. However, I very much enjoy reading the NY Times obituary section on a daily basis; I think because I start by reading the section as literature. This writing format is very much a good example of great disciplined creative and “technical” writing; they represent a very wonderful expression of story-telling at its best: (http://www.timharrower.com/PDFs/obituaries.pdf) The writer is faced with many creative challenges and ‘technical” limitations; the greatest being the number of available words, The obituary writer must fit an entire life into what is often an average 6,000-14,0000 word essay; depending on the degree, complexity and notoriety of the deceased. Further, there is the challenge of being sensitive to the memory and family of the deceased, and at the same time try to honor the truth. The further “technical” challenge is that a life, any life- story is a rich collection of stories, events, almost and realized- hits and misses, joys and tragedies, success and disappointments. Everyone’s complete life-story would require a book, to truly do it justice! And so the obituary writer is faced with the awesome task of deciding what to say, and what not to say about a person’s life. There is just no way that what is finally included (or excluded) will fully satisfy either supporters, or detractors of the deceased. But in an interesting way; that act does honestly sum up our lives; hero to some and villain to others; who we “really” are can’t possibly be captured in any finite writing format. I further like the obituary format for the same reasons I like Biographies (not so much auto-biographies); for as much as I love to “listen” to: Ellison, Dostoevsky, Camus, Solzhenitsyn and Wright tell human stories; none of these stories of fiction match the amazing drama, color and power of “real life” stories; perhaps because I believe that in “real life”, so much is at stake. Further, I like obituaries because they represent concise, condensed “packets” of a “His-Story”. Everyone life is a personal-story, marked by time and events; we are all and individually his/her-stories inside of the general story of history, which would not exist without the billions of collected and collective individual stories! Finally, obituaries remind me that our lives are time-framed; “work while it is day”, the non- electrical lighting rural emigrational elders in the church of my youth would say. This saying went beyond any practical earth science/agricultural reasoning, and into the philosophy of not wasting time on the useless and non-fertile actions of this life (are we laboring in a field that produces a lot of crap, but very little crop?). When I read any obituary; and in particular an obituary of someone who is close to my age; or, in the case of today, my same age; I am inspired to ask the questions:

1) Am I using my time effectively; am I positively productive?

2) Am I focused on the quantity of time or the quality of acts?

3) Am I truthfully and authentically living out my creative calling?

4) Am I sold on the idea of “one life”; or do we in fact have many variations of: “a life”?

5) Am I all that I say that I am; all that I believe/preach that is good and worthy?

6) Am I (and when am I) acting with brave resolution; or am I a slave to fear?

7) Am I seeking the endorsement of man or of God; form which editor will I seek correction?

We write our life-stories each and everyday; should we do more self-editing?

Love is a verb (My apologies to Anna, Ashley and Shawna, and all English teachers.)


“Our whole life is a meditation of our last decision—-the only decision that matters”

                                                                                                                                –Thomas Merton


     It is always the last act of concern, of kindness of attention that matters, for it prepares us and commissions us toward the next set of acts. We can’t “bank” the last good act, love requires us to keep working, and to keep working at and on it. Love is a verb that simply can’t be solely verbalized. There must be some kind of action to: make and “keep it real”. God is love. But God is the opposite of “inaction”; He is in a real sense all and every action; love therefore is without meaning, if it is without action. We are reminded during this Lenten season that “God so love the world that he gave….”. Can we love without giving, without the giving of ourselves? And so if the person “doesn’t get it”; perhaps the reason is that you didn’t send it!. I just spent the entire day yesterday,( and to be continued today); doing heavy labor, and working to help a friend. I was taught that: “anything worth doing, is worth doing well”. For some reason my mind keeps returning to that Mary, Mary “reality” show segment on adultery (a pivotal question was asked by the sister: “did you not love me?” The husband had the “look”; you know the look English teachers. The one that says: “No, you did not call on me(after all, I am slouching in the last row in the last seat, in the back of the room) to respond, when I did not even pick up the book last night, let alone read the assigned pages”)…How can we give our best to others, when we don’t even bother to give our best to ourselves?

       Perhaps, the hardest lesson: How do we get someone (or a people) to believe that the: “Best Effort” is the minimum of what they themselves deserve, and should expect? Why is not working hard to make someone feel secure, comfortable and happy not the acceptable norm? Are we in the age of “effortless” friendly/family-relationships? The main act is not Mary, Mary; rather it is the  “Me & My”  show which has taken center stage in this world, and is very much the center of our religious-worship experience (They preach that :“God wants you to be rich (and therefore); and others poor”); at least one pastor was  being honest when he said: “The poor will always be with us, I just don’t want to be one of them”.  It is as if God’s thinking and power is so small (like our own) that the idea of everyone having an enriched and empowered life never crossed His mind! Sometimes I feel  like my species is extinct, and for some strange reason, I miss the bus, and I am just hanging around waiting for some social-archaeologist to dig me up…..( oh, sorry again English teachers, that is, to excavate me)

Addition to my “bucket list”……


Sibling Day? Ok, that’s it, I have seen enough….adding something to my bucket list: Invent a “recognition day”


“Sibling Day”? Karl Marx never imagined that the entrepreneurial class would continually come up with buying and spending ideas on such massively creative  scale. Is Hallmark gearing up? With  the traditional days of historical recognition(i.e. President’s, 4th of July, etc.) having been transformed into: “Shopping extravaganzas”; what’s left but to “invent days”. And we have been “programed” to focus our concern, care and kindness into single celebratory days. Valentine’s Day (full disclosure, I am not crazy, I am not fighting against it!:-) relieves too many of the responsibility of showing how much we appreciate and care about our love interest on the other 364 days of the year. “You get this wonderful attention, for one day, and then I go back to……” Although I am discouraged by the idea of a “Martin Luther King Birthday Mattress Sale”; I am optimistic that at some point (or maybe not); people (sanity) power will prevail. But Marxist (any left?) should not raise their hopes up too high; I am sure that the entrepreneurial marketeers will  be able to adjust to that new reality, and figure out how to make the new reality, make money. In the mean time I am going to contribute to the problem by “inventing” my own day (my own, as it will “Festivus”, for you Seinfeld fans). And so I hereby establish:











And why not? Here in the south they are already ahead of the game and practicing the BLESSED Day greeting: “You’ll, have a BLESSED day now!”


Why is the “bad” ending not our fault, when we purposely advertise for, and accept lower standards?


Flipping through the channels yesterday in the hope of finding something to “watch me” while I iron for a few hours. I stopped at a segment of the Mary, Mary (un)reality show. Now I know why so often I feel like  it is me who is living in an unreality. The theme was spousal infidelity. My  thoughts: It is, in a very real way “her (their) faults” (it seems that the sisters share the experience). I am listening to the husbands “explain themselves” in the segment, and I am wondering why these women expected a different outcome then the one that emerged? Why are they with these men whose (proclaimed) principles are so different from the gospel music they sing? Men who are making nonsense (no sense at all, I desperately tried to follow their “logic”) in  place of sound spiritually  guided judgment. God’s thinking and purpose concerning marriage is never discussed; and so what was all of that “praise and worship” music about? It would have been better (for me) as a consumer of gospel music if I was never exposed to their husbands; I (thinking positively)  imagined that they were married to strong (or at the very least settled) men of God, but now…… Is the obvious absence of a spiritually sound plan in their professional lives (now pouring out their personal business in a reality show, filmed speaking from bed no less) reflective of their disconnection from a solid and serious man of God in their private lives? After listening to these two men speak; and then listening to how articulate the women were*; I can’t imagine that “infidelity” was not one of the many negative possibilities on the list, prior to marriage. How often have we “recruited” (invited) people into our lives based on the standards we have established, either consciously or unconsciously. And so why is it that we expect a different outcome then the one we expected?


*I admit to a professional predisposition here, as I believe that there is a linkage between language (speaking) and thinking (ideas formation); educators will recognize this as a major Vygotskyian theoretical principle


“Stardom Doesn’t Change Where You’re From: Amid reports of gang ties, the Eagles cut DeSean Jackson. I grew up with him. I believe him to be a good person. I also know why NFL players from inner-city neighborhoods like mine in L.A. keep friends from when we were nobodies”


Thanks (Diona Howard-Nicolas)….Thanks D; as the author correctly states in his opening, we may not have all of the facts in this case. There is always a danger when taking a stand that you perhaps don’t have all of the information, and I am really not sure what information that the Eagles organization have in their possession. I think however I part with him on the idea that Black “celebrities” or “non-celebrities” must labor under a different set of social rules. It is very natural to lose and gain friends as one moves through life. This may have less to do with “looking down” on folks, and more to do with a change in social and professional interest. Perhaps you joined a sorority, professional organization, become a parent or developed an interest in bowling, gulf or archery; these actions may create a new set of friends that match your present interests in life. This is quite different from going back to the old neighborhood and ignoring and disrespecting your old friends. Further, this goes both ways, when I became a highly visible educator in the community; many of my old teenage buddies respected and understood what that meant for how I wanted to represent myself in public. For example: I once went back to visit my old neighborhood and an old friend said: “Michael I read about what you are doing with young people; I can’t get into your car.” I never inquired as to why, and he never offered, but I suspect that he was in the possession of “something”, and he did not want to hurt my work in the community. On that day I felt that we were mutually respectful of each other. I am always alert to the “double-standards” Black folks must face in America, and so why are we forced to have the same friends for life; as a sign of our “keeping it real”, or “not selling out”. Are White folks ever accused of “not keeping it real?” My thoughts as I grew into manhood was less about keeping it real with my old neighborhood buddies and more about how I could transform the neighborhood for the better by creating opportunities for the children of my old buddies to enjoy success. I wanted to make a significant contribution to the positive and empowering educational life of my community… If “celebrities” committed to similar acts then I would not care what their old, or new buddies thought…


P.S. You are absolutely correct in asserting that the phrase “nobodies” is very problematic; understanding as we do, the link between speech and thought; but I also submit to you that the use of the phrase is also very revealing as to this unfair psychological  burden that  “successful” Young Black Folks must carry throughout their lives. One is actually “somebody” prior to joining the NFL, earning an acting part on Broadway, signing a record deal, etc. Our “somebodiness” is God given, and we can only enhance or diminished it by how we act regardless of our job title. This fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of an identity outside of a “job title” is troubling. It also is symptomatic of a core concern; is it: “I play for the NFL, NBA, etc. and therefore I am?” Or is there an “I am” who’s chosen area of expertise is the NFL and NBA?  We critique and perhaps even (To continue the metaphor) penalize Black professional athletes utilizing the wrong criteria. Why is maintaining an old lifestyle useful? And can the multi-million dollar corporation called LeBron James; really and authentically just act like any “brother in the hood” (whatever that means)?  It is as if these young men and women are being called on to pay some type of emotional penance for having achieved some level of success in a chosen area of their expertise. It is simply a case of unfair treatment. I want to judge them on what they  do of a positive nature with their money and influence.