It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
— Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV)
If you’re a fan of CBS hit show The Good Wife and haven’t watched episode 515, entitled “Dramatics, Your Honor,” READ NO FURTHER.
SERIOUSLY, STOP EVERYTHING AND WATCH IT.
(MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.)
You see I, like millions of viewers across America, was recently shocked — SHOCKED — by the on-screen death of high-powered attorney Will Gardner, the primary male lead role in the CBS’s hit show The Good Wife.
And when I say recently, I mean — just now.
I’m still sitting here, having just watched it.
And let me tell you, I am not someone who feels much emotion over TV deaths. I see people die on television all the time. I mean goodness, the average TV procedural shows at least one gruesome death every episode, and I’m an avid TV viewer, so the number of on-screen deaths I’ve seen over my life time is probably in the hundreds of thousands (and that’s just on television — if we’re counting video games, it’s gotta be well into the millions).
Not only that, but a few days ago, I just watched another major hit show involving high-powered political relationships, ABC’s Scandal, where they just killed off another main character. And although that death resonated more so than I expected — no small feat since people are murdered and resurrected on a regular basis in the bat$#!+ crazy world of Scandal — it hit me nowhere near as hard as this one did.
Part of it, of course, was fondness for the actor.
I’ve been a fan of Josh Charles for about fifteen years, ever since I saw him play Dan Rydell on the critically-acclaimed cult favorite Sports Night, one of my favorite shows of all time. (Not gonna lie, there’s a part of me that’s still hoping against hope that his exit might help pave the way for an eventual Sports Night reunion.)
But most of it was the masterful way in which the storytelling set it up — which is, to say, not at all.
In both a heartfelt letter to fans as well as an exclusive interview with TVLine’s Michael Ausiello, showrunners Robert & Michelle King indicated that they wanted the death of Will Gardner to ring true in the way that death often does — with violent, unexpected trauma.
That’s what it felt like to me.
One minute Will was in a courtroom, exulting over a piece of evidence that he was confident would exonerate his client, the next minute he was dead — gunned down by the same troubled young man he was doing his professional best to defend.
One of the byproducts of death intruding into every day mundanity is that it often has the potential to cut through the haze. In the intensity of death and its aftermath, a brutal sense of clarity that can descend, wherein we are more able to differentiate between stuff that matters and stuff that does not. This, in my opinion, is what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes was getting at.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Dealing with grief and pain always carries with it a measure of difficulty, yet ironically, it is often such periods of pain and grief that incubate incredible insights and breakthroughs. It’s no surprise that some of the most brilliant artists have led such tortured lives.
It’s also no surprise that I encountered this episode on this date — March 23rd — about two and a half weeks into the season of Lent.
During the season of Lent, I’ve stepped away from social media in general, and Facebook and Twitter specifically. And it’s taken me about two weeks to adjust, to inure myself against the phantom itch of compulsive, random feed browsing, against the constant need to know What’s Happening Right Now. I’m still having great difficulty knowing what to do with myself at various points throughout the day. Since I work from home most days, Facebook is often my main source of social interaction from friends. I told myself when I started this fast that it would be a good excuse to call some of them up and actually hear their voices, or perhaps make more lunch plans or drop in on more people or whatever.
Those fleeting thoughts now take on an additional sense of urgency in light of the reality of death that I’ve been reminded of. Earlier this evening at an open mic comedy night, I made a joke about how the term “preventable death” is such a misnomer, because there’s no such thing — death cannot be prevented. It can only be postponed (which, according to the joke, is why the only viable universal health care solution is procrastination … so good news, I’m gonna live FOREVER). It’s a joke precisely because it’s so ridiculous… the truth is, death comes for us all, and in the end, all we’ll be known for are the people and the work that we leave behind.
I’m reminded of The Tonic’s solo CD The Dash… I always loved that title because of the double meaning. If all you know about it is the title, The Dash seems like quintessential hip-hop. In a media landscape where branding is everything, where any sense of subtle nuance in meaning gets inevitably lost in the pursuit of viral-ready soundbites, “The Dash” seems like the perfect anthem for a jet-setting, cosmopolitan, live-in-the-now, fame-hungry, disposable celebrity generation. It’s all about the dash, brah — this week Hollywood, next week the Hamptons, then Aspen, then Dubai. #BALLSOHARD #GETMONEY
It’s only if you listen to the album that you discern the real meaning behind the title. On every tombstone, there are two dates — a beginning and and ending date. And what’s in the middle? The dash. It represents what we’ve done with the time we’ve been given on this earth.
And the truth is, none of us know exactly how long we’ve got.
This may be the only time that I say this, but watching that television show genuinely helped me resolve to live the life I’m meant to live. Not just that I feel an urgency to get some things done (like finishing the worship album to go along with the single I recently dropped) but I want to be the kind of person that can cut through the bull and be about the things that matter. To be about loving my wife, extending grace to my family and friends, being a welcoming agent for the people that God brings into my path. And to be about not sweating the other stuff, like what kind of phone or tablet I want to buy next.
In the end, we’re all either running away from the light, or running toward it. Seeing Josh Charles lying lifeless on a gurney, I feel compelled to check my compass yet again.