The world is poorer with the loss of a genuine original

What will people say about you at your funeral?

When my brother died 13 years ago, the headline was “He was kind.”

My brother wasn’t a father. Or a business owner. Or even a college graduate. But he was a good friend, and “kind” was an apt description, impressive because so few people can be summed up that way.

I attended the funeral yesterday of another man who died too soon. We went to college together and worked on the copy desk — he on sports, me on news — of a small daily newspaper nearly two decades ago. I remember Marty as mirthful stats wiz. His job at 11 p.m., juggling the final scores of dozens of high school and professional games of all sorts, was much harder than mine late at night; rarely did news of any consequence occur after 10 p.m. on a Saturday. He managed to make stressful deadlines fun, and his sense of humor smoothed a lot of rough technical and timing edges. He lived in the moment, and someone read the following quote at his service last night:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”

~ author Hunter S. Thompson

That was Marty — an original. I subscribe to the “pretty and well-preserved” way, but after listening to all the fun Marty cooked up during his life, I understand why some subscribe to Thompson’s approach.

Someone else, wearing a suit and a good haircut and who labeled themselves as a “sell-out,” described Marty as “genuine.” I agree, and it’s worthy of admiration. One example: When he wore sweatpants to work, I couldn’t imagine doing that myself. Marty was a sweatpants sort of guy, and that’s how he dressed without thought to anyone else. Copy editors are solitary and work in newsrooms, hardly fashion meccas. Why did I put so much emphasis on my clothes? Because I was a sell-out, too. “They” say you should dress like the level above you, and I believed “them” even though no one outside of the reporters and fellow copy editors even saw what I was wearing. I was “safe” and “pretty” while Marty was comfortably “using up” and “wearing out” life.

Then and now, I behave in sometimes senseless inauthentic ways.

Like “kind,” I thought “genuine” was the sort of description worth aspiring to but few attain.

What will be the headline on your obituary? And can you be proud of it?


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