In reading the eulogies for 81 year old Senator John McCain, what resonated was how he faced his final fight. He knew his brain cancer carried a death sentence. He did not deny or avoid, but planned for the end. He spent time inviting special people to memorialize him. Given his seeming pragmatic approach, he was probably trying to help his family prepare emotionally as well. McCain used his remaining time, strength and cognition to shape the narrative about his life—the legacy he left behind. Many people know about his five years as a POW, a captivity of unknown duration but documented as a time of pain and suffering. He was offered early release, but chose to wait his turn.
A different John, John Lennon was shot and murdered at age 40. It’s unlikely that he anticipated that particular ending to his life. But, listening to his music suggests what and who was important to him. In 1980, the year he died, he released a ballad about his then five year old son called “Beautiful Boy.” Lennon’s death makes this line particularly poignant and ironic: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I would hope that his son found consolation in that song, knowing he was loved. Lennon used music to muse about heaven and hell and promote peace in Imagine. He addressed critics about the choice he made to stay home and raise his son in “Watching The Wheels” and addressed shortcomings in another: “Jealous Guy.” Onlookers never know the whole story, but his musical creations continue as messages from beyond the grave.
Unlike hurricanes in this age of technological tracking, not everyone gets a warning about impending death. But even with a diagnosis, some choose to not prepare or are weakened by a rapidly debilitating illness. In the face of a terminal diagnosis, many focus more on the immediacy of treatment and the possibility of cure, aiming for life extension. Seeking a longer future is normal, but this can also be a time for healing and forgiving, saying and doing things “just in case.” Because of course, “The End” ultimately comes for everyone.
Both men admitted to flaws, acts of bravery and realism, especially when social media often paints a gilded picture of perfection. We don’t know what life has in store for us, but we do get to choose how we respond to the ups and downs.
It’s strange to think of McCain and Lennon as contemporaries. They chose very different paths and one lived double the amount of time that the other did. Both men left their marks. McCain will be remembered for his war hero status and public service. The US Postal Service just issued a commemorative stamp honoring Lennon. And of course, his music persists decades after his death.
Cemeteries and gravestones speak to a desire to not be forgotten. “Did my life matter?” In the end, it may be quite simple. The body decays but distinction remains. Did I make the world better? People will remember the net difference—where more good than bad is left behind.
© Joan S Grey, 13 SEP 18
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