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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

in the wake

So here we are.

I have spent the last several days immersed in an unattractive gumbo of grief, melancholy, tentative acceptance, and frustration.  

None of this would be what my friend and colleague, the late great Jerry Nelson (he of my last post, “jerry”), would have wanted. He was one of those roll-with-it guys, a cool cat on a higher spiritual plane, above the rampant pettiness in the world. That doesn’t mean he was a saint. He was a lovable scoundrel in the best possible sense. But he was calmer than me, for certain. 

I spent the immediate days after his passing staring alternately into space and into my laptop, waiting for the rest of the world to realize exactly whom they’d just lost and react accordingly. I thought that this would bring me closure and peace.

It did not.

Instead, my heart sank as I learned about the nature of disposable news in our brave new world. Jerry was, briefly, a trending topic on Twitter (which I suppose is as much as anyone can hope for these days) until the Apple-Samsung verdict came in. Then people moved on. Jerry was pictured on AOL’s home page for a couple of hours, but the photo was bumped by such vital news as Katy Perry wearing a see-through dress at an event. 

I fumed at the obituaries that slowly trickled in, many of them inaccurate, most of them incomplete; all of them inadequate. Jerry deserved much, much better.

It made me realize that a life -- any life -- is always more than what we think it is. I’m sure that Neil Armstrong’s family shook their fists at the obituaries that boiled the man’s entire life down to one day in July of 1969. No one’s life is defined by one thing. Jerry’s life was not defined by one single character. He was not just the Count. He wasn’t just a Sesame Street performer. He wasn’t even just a puppeteer. He was so many things to so many people, and touched the entire world with his endless talents in so many ways... but they were somewhat invisible ways. You can’t easily measure invisible impact.

The problem is, there aren’t enough words -- and certainly not enough column inches -- to define the people we love. We can try, but most people don’t have the patience to listen or read about someone who seemingly doesn’t apply to them... especially someone who wasn’t a celebrity. 

The irony is that to the people who knew Jerry (and to the many die-hard Muppet fans out there), he was more than a celebrity... he was a rock star. And as such, I’m gobsmacked by the apparent lack of rock star respect from the likes of the New York Times, which ran a staggeringly unimpressive one-page obituary, pulled off the Associated Press wire, on their website. 

Perhaps it wouldn’t have made one speck of difference to our hearts if the Times had published a respectful, original in memoriam with accurate information that was five pages long. Maybe it still wouldn’t have seemed like enough. But it sure would have been nice.

Ever since Jerry’s death nearly a week ago, the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay have echoed in my head, over and over: Life goes on; I forget just why. And yes, time is starting to heal us, slowly, just as it has with all of the other loved ones we’ve lost. 

I know that Jerry is on some other astral plane right now, learning the secrets of the universe and becoming part of a greater Force, wholly unconcerned with these little, insignificant trifles. I’m sure he doesn’t care one whit about the contents of his obituary. He has bigger and better things to do now. 

But, in the immortal words of Luke Skywalker, I care

Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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