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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I've spent a great deal of time over the last year exploring my beliefs, often vainly attempting to define the foundation on which I can build a coherent philosophy to guide and give meaning to my daily life. I've immersed myself in books on science, philosophy and religion, nearly drown myself in self-reflection, and engaged many of you in seemingly endless conversations interspersed with occasional self-aggrandizing black holes of faulty logic. I have tumbled so many thoughts and concepts around in my brain that I have often wondered if I would ever come to any semblance of satisfaction in any of them.

But what I have repeatedly returned to after each circuitous journey of ideas is the concept of connection with others. If I hold any belief as true, it is this: My life is defined and given meaning by the relationships I cultivate with people. It is how I conduct myself in these interactions -- these connections -- that determines my worth and whether my life has lasting meaning beyond my short time on this planet. And where I have found the most satisfaction and meaning is in those relationships underpinned by three things -- an ease of concentration, and inherent benevolence, and a natural affection.

Most relationships suffer from a lack of concentration. We get so wrapped up in ourselves and our things that we end up paying half-hearted attention to our spouses, children, family and friends -- the people we claim to value the most. We are all guilty of it to varying degrees. If someone is unsatisfied in a relationship, you can almost guarantee a large part of the problem is a lack of concentration from one or both sides of the equation. Through the simple act of giving someone your undivided attention, if even for just a few minutes, you send a unequivocal message that their thoughts, emotions and offerings are worthwhile. Relationships that thrive have an unforced ease of concentration, a true desire to pay attention.

An inherent benevolence exists in meaningful connection, where the meaning is derived from a desire to have a positive effect in another person's life. The relationship is not satisfying as a result of what we get out of it, but rather because of what we offer to it. Again, as with concentration, true benevolence requires us to put aside our selfish motivations and attend to others.

Affection is often thought of in its most narrow interpretation, that of the expression of physical attraction. But in every lasting, meaningful relationship, there exists a natural affection between people. Whether the between parent and child or brother and sister, between two best friends or two romantic lovers, deep human connection is affectionate -- emotionally, intellectually and physically. Affection, at its core, is the most tangible expression of what a relationship means to us. To deny affection is to rob our relationships of the energy to thrive.

Over the past few months, it has become clear that I am innately defined by my human relationships. It is through my connection with others that I derive meaning and purpose.
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