Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Impermanence & What Counts

Recent events including the sudden death of NBC Political Anchor Tim Russert have reminded me yet again of some values that tend to be undervalued in almost each moment I am alive.
Here, the word 'moment' is being chosen deliberately because the present moment is all we can be sure of fully experiencing, as the author Eckhart Tolle reminds us in his book 'The Power of Now'.

Russert was a serious professional with an unassuming manner who consistently focused on putting things into as true a perspective as could be triangulated. I say triangulated because Tim wasn't one to deliberately or artificially polarize serious issues either. Instead, he excelled at asking fair questions and then expecting that honest and complete answers would derive from the responses from which those he interviewed gave. I thought he was unusually effective at that skill for a TV personality, as did many others from the tremendous outpouring of passionate praise his untimely death triggered.

Tim Russert was certainly not just a pretty face and talking head who mouthed the words that were given to him!
Nor was he a paid demagogue masquerading as a FOX newsperson, or a vacuous parrot that simply monitored the wires and mirrored the same views others reported essentially unfettered.
No sir, this Mr Russert was his own man, who worked hard for a long time in relative obscurity digging for real news and views that counted, using the same family values he was taught from early in life. The value he created was earned the old fashioned way, by earning it! I really admire that.

There have been other excellent newspersons I have highly respected over the years, too. People like Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Robert McNeil & Jim Lehrer, Judy Woodruff and Bill Moyers to name a few. But Tim Russert's special niche was political analysis at the highest level which is a very rare skill indeed.

I think Russert would probably be a little uncomfortable and maybe even a little embarrassed at all the attention his death has attracted, but that's just my guess. He'd probably prefer to have some other folks just step up and try as hard as he did to get the right combination of facts, history and motivations into a context that was living and real. Again, that's just a supposition.

Above all, Tim seemed to know what was really most important in life and to live that fully. He will be missed, but I hope his example will remain as the standard for public journalism for many years to come. So, good-bye Tim, its been great knowing that people like you still exist!

While Tim Russert's recent death has attracted national headlines, there are many other deaths and afflictions occurring daily including some that have impacted my family with increasing frequency. But, that is the nature of life - it is impermanent.
And because death does often come without warning, the present moment is so important! Some may think saying that borders on morbidity, but think about it -who knows when their time will come?

This point was driven home to me again today in a conversation with my dear little sister, whom we recently visited in Tennessee. Several months ago, Mary was diagnosed with cancer and began a series of medical tests and treatments to counteract and cure it, a process that remains in full effect to this very moment. But, just barely, because my last phone conversation with her -less than an hour ago- revealed that she and her husband were nearly killed or seriously injured this morning on Interstate 40 while on their way to a planned medical treatment. Fortunately, during a mandatory highway construction stop, she saw another vehicle approaching from behind at high speed and swerved just in time to avoid a full rear-end impact collision! The glancing blow her car did receive was enough to tear off the right rear panel and scare the daylights out of her and her husband. The other car, driven by a mom with 4 kids, went off the road and onto the median strip where it narrowly and miraculously missed turning over and killing or maiming its occupants.

In this case, everyone survived. Thank God for that! And, maybe the near-miss will remain so vivid that future accidents will be better avoided. But, the point is it could have been over for 7 people in literally the blink of an eye! That is a present moment that could have their last, but wasn't. Think about it. Our lives are defined by linking one present moment to the next until the string ends.

Even though I was not there, hearing of that frightening incident was enough to make me think about how I'm spending my precious moments. Hopefully, I'll think about that more often during my 'future' present moments and make them count for something! Maybe if enough of us do that we'll start to value what really counts more for all of us. What really counts is so much more than words and slogans. If Tim Russert knew what counted, maybe there are others who will try to emulate him in the ways we can.