Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Public Grief

What a week.

So many public figures-- Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays-- all died within days of each other. Millions mourned their loss, as well as the lives and achievements of these public figures. They made us laugh, entertained us, danced, and help us shop. For many of us, we grew up watching Ed McMahon every night, Farrah every Wednesday night. We remembered a world before and after moon walking, and stains that wouldn't leave without OxyClean.

I couldn't but help wonder about the hundreds of thousands of others who died last week, who will die this week, or who die every day. The deaths of celebrities draw us in, we re-live their talents, we grieve their losses and then move on. These are lives lived in the public eye, and then ended in the public eye. It somehow satisfies our need to see our heroes fall, become fallible and human. Or, to honor the markers of our collective cultural landscapes.

But we could do so much more.

Even though few of us will live lives on national television, movie theaters, or provide the soundtracks to our memories, all of us will die. When celebrities live, they seem larger than life. In death, we are reminded of the Buddha's words in the Nine Charnel Ground Contemplations-- "None of us are exempt from this fate."

The deaths of famous people demonstrate that death is universal, and if we allow it, can be a universal teacher. We can-- if we choose to-- be reminded of the preciousness of all life, of the unique potential of each human life, and the inevitability of our mortality. We can use the deaths of celebrities as bells of mindfulness to wake us up from taking our precious moments for granted. To become empowered to make the choices that give our lives meaning.

So, thank you Ed, Farrah, MJ, Billy, and everyone else for giving us the opportunity to wake up in your own way.

May you all be free from suffering, and may you all be at peace.

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