Saturday, April 27, 2024

#118 / Obits

That's Frank McCourt on the left. In 1997, Frank McCourt won the Pulitizer Prize for his memoir, Angela's Ashes. He died in 2009. 

Frank's brother, Malachy McCourt (he is the guy on the right) just died recently, on March 11, 2024. He was ninety-two years old. The picture of the two brothers comes from The New York Times obituary of Malachy McCourt, published on March 12th. The Times called Malachy "a Memoirist, Actor and Gadabout." I thought his obituary was an interesting, and in many ways an inspiring, read. 

As I read the Malachy McCourt obituary, I suddenly had an idea how local newspapers, ever thinner and losing their subscriber base, might be able (just possibly) to regain their footing as important sources of local news. This might not work, but I think this is an idea worth contemplating. 

What if local newspapers published the obituaries of everyone who died in the local community - but writing their lives up as a "news story"? Currently, at least in the local newspaper covering Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the paper only runs obituaries that are paid for, and they often don't celebrate, as much as they might, the complex and interesting lives of the persons whose deaths are documented. Again, those deaths - and lives - are documented only if someone paid to run the obituary. On March 12, 2024, as an example, the day The Times ran the obituary of Malachy McCourt, the Sentinel ran no obituaries at all. Nobody died? Unlikely. 

Why would I, or anyone else, subscribe to a local newspaper? Among other things, to find out what's happening in my local community. I have lots of ways to find out what's happening with respect to national goings on (the wars and floods and deaths and episodes of destruction that make up most of what we think of as "news"). But I don't have any way (absent coverage in my local newspaper) of knowing what's happening in the community of which I am, most immediately, a part. I would like to know about that - including who has been born and who has died. I am suggesting that the paper cover the news of local births, too, as well as the news of local deaths.

I have not forgotten the words of that hospice nurse that I wrote about on April 14th. As you may recall, she said the following, as she discussed what it felt like after someone that she was taking care of died: 

There’s this moment, especially when I’ve taken care of someone for a while, where I’ll walk outside and I’ll go fill up my gas tank and it’s like: Wow, all these other people have no idea that we just lost someone great. The world lost somebody great, and they’re getting a sandwich. 

If we are honest, we all know that there are lots of "great" lives lived, and lost, and that we are all "great," and that our so-called "ordinary" lives are full of drama and import. The fact is, we can learn about both the past and present of what is really "going on" in our local communities by hearing the stories of who has just been born, and who has died. What could be more pertinent and more important? 

Just a thought! As I say, I am not sure that this is really an economically possible way to revive local journalism, which is definitively disappearing, to our great loss. Still, we are, as I often say, "together" in this life. That means that John Donne was right on target in his famous poem, "For Whom The Bell Tolls." 

To ring the bells that we can ring, we need to have heard the bells that have already rung (the ones to which Donne has called our attention). It is those bells that that have "tolled for us" that can best inspire us to honor snd love this world that we inhabit, and which we (and let me repeat) create together!

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