Saturday, January 12, 2013

Passing the Baton

The end of each calendar year always includes a look back at events of the year, including the astonishing list of celebrities who have died during the past 12 months. As usual, the list presented by the media for the year just ending was amazing. Not only did we lose a number of great people who lived full lives, but another common trait was evident among those we lost.

This unspoken trait is rather hard to identify although it has been on my mind since the list was first published. That trait is unique to many of the personalities we lost, the likes of which we may never see again. In days of yore, such people were referred to by terms such as "bigger than life" or "cut from a different bolt." It involves an independent spirit requiring people to live life to its fullest, charging ahead knowing what they wanted and leaving a mark on the world in the process.

What brought this topic to mind again was the news yesterday that writer Evan Connell, Jr. had died. He was a remarkable writer, shrewdly independent with a tireless curiosity about the world and its inhabitants. To some, his death alone at his home in Santa Fe, may seem lonely and perhaps a little sad. But people like Connell -- individualists to a fault -- endeavor to live on their own terms.

Not only is such a lifestyle daring and admirable, it is also a vanishing option. These icons are a bit like cowboys who settled the Old West. No one could persuade them to live otherwise nor would they want to make such a compromise, despite all the pitfalls and dangers involved. This was the life they chose and, by golly, that's what they were going to do. No one else was harmed as a result of their choices and they rode off into the sunset, secure in their own strength. Think Jeremiah Johnson.

We need people with such conviction. Not only do they encourage the rest of us to look outside the small, narrow box of our existence, perhaps altering our own path, but they demonstrate the essence of "character." Despite all of their flaws and yes, perhaps selfishness, they do things their own way, like the old Sinatra song. Gotta give 'em credit.

Recently I finally managed to watch in entirety the movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, a disappointing made-for-tv epic about Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. There was something about the production that annoyed me, perhaps the snip-and-cut glossy treatment given to world-changing events of the 1940s. But I was intrigued by Martha Gellhorn, a true maverick who had a remarkable career in her own right. I intend to read more about this strong woman who refused to be "a footnote in someone else's life."

Among the numerous celebrities who died in 2012 were the following: Ray Bradbury, Andy Griffith, George McGovern, Maurice Sendak, Mike Wallace, Andy Williams and Gore Vidal. Each of these individuals had certain qualities that set them apart from the rest of the crowd all during their lives; they took the qualities with them in death.   Style. Conviction. Talent. Resilience.

We need more people with these characteristics and we can't spare those we already have. Who will replace them in the years ahead? Hopefully we will not be depending on stars of reality television or other super-lightweights. As the intellect of our world continues to decline, we need to refocus on those amazing folks still with us who are "bigger than life" in every sense. We should recognize the skills and talents of the truly unusual personalities, the pathfinders who dare to set their own pace. There are still plenty of folks out there who do not shy away from challenge.

Among my favorite passtimes is searching for antiques. Take cast iron cookware, for instance. I own several pieces which have been passed down through the family for generations. These are quality utensils, well-made and crafted to last. Sure, I could buy a piece from a discount store this afternoon and it might even look better than one nearly 100 years old. But it won't be here in another 10 years, let along 100.

The tried and true endures.

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