Friday, June 26, 2009

I Read the Obituaries Today

I read the obituaries today.

Page B-4 of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette.

There's Keyth Carter, 52, who "packed cheese at Kraft Inc. for a while before attending BauMonde School of Hair Styling to become a stylist"; John Shedelbower, 74, who "passed away peacefully at 2:48 p.m. at home, surrounded by his family, the day after Father's Day"; Susan Evans, 70, who "was selected to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine and was hired by Playboy Enterprises in Chicago where she befriended Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Paul Desmond and many other artistic celebrities of the era"; and Tami Spilmon, 37, whose "hobbies included racing, especially Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Unity and Illini sports."

As I read the stories of the lives of Keyth, John, Susan and Tami, likely written by loved ones whose palpable grief is reflected in these disposable tributes, I'm struck by their brevity and humility compared to the overwhelming crush of public expression over the recent celebrity deaths that have filled every form of information media in the past days.

What is it about celebrity that infatuates us so? Why haven't thousands of people sobbed along makeshift sidewalk grottoes for Keyth and Tami? Did "John Shedelbower RIP" appear even once as a Twitter feed? Why hasn't the "Remembering Susan Evans" photo montage preempted regular programming on MSNBC?

These questions give me pause as I read the executive summary of the lives of sixteen local people who I've never met, but wonder how many lives they help fulfill, how much good they did in their short time with us. And yet, they expire with little attention and fanfare, living on only in the memory of those whose lives they touched.

I cannot help but feel we have this all wrong.

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