Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 140 Michael Jackson Meets John Donne

Michael Jackson’s Celebration of Life was today. I was not a Michael Jackson fan. I knew he was a singer/dancer/entertainer. That was about it. I had no idea that his fame was so vast and popularity so world wide. I moved the mouse over to MSNBC at 10 o’clock this morning and the service was beginning. I didn’t watch it all, but I did watch over half of it. It was sad.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Thus go the lines from John Donne’s famous poem, “No Man is an Island

I recall three things about Michael Jackson: his performance at the half time of a Super Bowl, a picture of him dangling a small child, or baby, high off of a balcony somewhere, and pictures of people waiting outside a courtroom while he was being tried for something like child molestation or something related.  None of these things would lead me to believe that he was deserving of such high praise by so many people.  But once again, I am wrong.

One might think that as one gets older the mistakes would be fewer and perhaps they are. But, it doesn’t seem like it. My mistakes continue to rack up like scores on a pinball machine. Michael Jackson made some mistakes. I can't fault him for that.

The truth of the matter is that life presents us with so many trials or choices that we are bound to continue to stumble from time to time. The sad part is that every time we stumble we suffer. Sometimes it is just us that suffer and that is as it should be. But sometimes when we make mistakes we take others down with us and that hurts. We treat someone rudely, we mistakenly accuse, we misunderstand, we misjudge.

The existentialists talk about this as being the “hell” we live in right here on earth. We don’t have to wait until we die. We have lots of choices to make and some times we will choose correctly and sometimes choose incorrectly. When we choose incorrectly we suffer. It's a difficult task to make correct choices as we experience life. We have other people coming in on us all the time. They argue this way or that. They try to influence our decision. They do influence our decision. I remember some memorable line from existentialism claiming that ‘hell was other people’.

That seems like a bit of stretch to me. I can understand thinking that at times. It produces ‘road rage’ at so many different times in so many different ways. People move in front of us while we are trying to see something. They are to tall, or too noisy, or too some other thing that affects us negatively. They vote for the wrong guy. They steal our thunder. They say it before we have a chance. They get there before we do. The list is endless.

I have trouble with this one though in that I love being around other people. At least I love it most of the time. When we go to our condo in the heart of the city, I love the unexpected encounters with people I have never seen or met before. I love walking around the corner and running into someone with green hair, earrings protruding from their lips, cheeks or tongue. There is so much variety and serendipity in the minds and actions of other people. A case could be made that this is not hell, but heaven.

I know a lot of people that go to the woods for a weekend retreat. They like the silence. They like the solitude. I suppose they work with people all day or all week and like the opposite situation for recreation. It makes sense. But as for me, I’m a people person. Not that I go to a mall and hang out. But I love a good coffee shop on a busy corner.

This brings me back to Michael Jackson’s death. He made mistakes. But he also did something right. And from the looks of the memorial service he did a lot right. The line from Donne’s poem ricocheted around in my mind during the service: “any man’s death diminishes me”. I certainly had little connection with Michael Jackson, but it was a sad experience to share in the memorial service. John Donne was right about what we never need to do:

“… never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


This is Retirement Talk.



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