By Matt Gordon
“I’ve known only two perfect people in my life. One is that son of a bitch Martin Short; the other is Carl Reiner.” So begins Steve Martin’s lovely essay about his friend Carl Reiner, a piece published in the New York Times. Martin goes on to describe Reiner’s decency, his friendship, his loyalty, and his kindness for those who only knew the man for his movies. In short (not Martin that SOB), Steve Martin paid tribute to his deceased friend.
And it resonated.
I didn’t particularly care for Reiner one way or the other. While I’ve read some Steve Martin, and have enjoyed some of his comedic exploits, his authorship alone didn’t draw me to the piece.
I think what led me there was the promise of authentic kindness. It seems one thing we humans have figured out is how to be kind to our dead.
As to the living, we prefer the roast to the tribute. We chide our friends and tease our mentors. We hold birthday parties that mock the aged with black balloons and gag gifts. We laugh, I think, because we may not know how to give our love. Steve Martin showcased vulnerability in his piece, but it is easier to be vulnerable about someone than to someone.
This sentiment was captured by the comments.
At the time that I accessed these comments there were 341 of them and I couldn’t find a negative one. That, in itself, was curious. I took from this anomaly that people long for authentic love, and that we have a yearning to impact someone in the same way that those being memorialized have deeply touched the ones singing songs of praise in their honor. That we might love in a way that transcends us, shaping our world when we no longer can add to it by way of vitality—there is something in that. Further, the glowing commentary adds to my assertion that we have some notion as to how to be kind to our dead. One comment, in particular, stood out amid the rest. I’ll paraphrase it here:
Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them. I sure hope you shared them with Carl Reiner while he lived.
Paying tribute to the departed is a good thing. Yet honoring those who have called us into being and made us who we are while they live is an altogether different thing.
Tom Junod gained household fame through his exposé on Fred Rogers in Variety. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is loosely based on the brilliant journalist’s unlikely relationship with the children’s television icon. In one scene, Mr. Rogers invites the cynical Junod to take a moment to reflect on those who had impacted his life. The interaction in the movie is based on a daily practice of Rogers which colors a portion of his 1997 Emmy acceptance speech:
“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are — those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life? Ten seconds of time. I’ll watch the time . . .”
Wouldn’t it be nice to encourage those who have loved you into being? To say thank you? And as life fades for each of us every passing day, it would be wise to avoid watching the time on such things, and do it now while time remains.
In coming days that is what I’ll be doing here on this site. I’ll be writing a handful of Living Tributes to those who have—prominently and subtly—shaped me. These are people who have taught me something and in some way have loved me into being. To my knowledge they all live; To my knowledge, they all love.
It seems one thing we humans have figured out is how to be kind to our dead. And now for the living . . .
Posts in this series will come out on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are listed below.