Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Death of our Writers

I'm going to confess something that is going to reveal my ignorance, but I had no idea who Howard Zinn was until his death. When I saw the news on twitter, I started looking up information about him and naturally ordered A People's History of the United States.

But it was a tweet from Derek Webb that especially touched me for some reason I can't really explain. The wording of it felt so sincere and gave me pause to consider the meaning of life, and the meaning of the lives we never know. Derek said, "we lost howard zinn. so thankful for his life. i've plagiarized him quite a bit over the years, especially lately. bless him"

So thankful for his life. It's clear from reading the assorted memorials that Zinn had a very positive and profound impact on a lot of people, and of our understanding of our nation, its history, and its role in the world. He was a champion to the preserved history of the oppressed and of those who have not been heard. His life mattered on a level in which it touched (and will continue to touch) those who never met him, who never bought him a beer, or knew him personally. His life mattered.

Today I heard we lost another great writer, JD Salinger, this one I'm familiar with. Despite the fact that he was 91 years old, it's like my friend Ana said, there's something about knowing they are no longer in the world that is saddening.

It calls to mind one of my favorite (who am I kidding, they are all one of my favorite) Andrew Peterson songs composed after the death of Rich Mullins, "Three Days Before Autumn". I love this song because it validates that genuine grief and sorrow you feel over the loss of someone you have never personally known, but you love "just the same."

In the death of the known, of our artists, thinkers, scholars and celebrities we have these rare moments of collectively coming together as a culture to remember what these individual lives and their contribution to our understanding of what it means to be human have meant to us. We take a moment to mourn what we've lost as a people. We grapple for a second with our own mortality and what our lives mean. We grieve.

Rest in peace, Howard Zinn.
Rest in peace, J.D. Salinger

We are thankful for what your lives meant to us and what they will continue to mean for us.



Hazra said...

Oh, I didn't know about Salinger's death! I know what you mean, there is something very sad in knowing that they will never write again, and all their thoughts and ideas died with them. May they rest in peace!

Keshalyi said...

Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States' is actually a really easy, approachable read - I believe he made it that way on purpose, because he didn't want it to be academic, but popular. I don't always agree with his premises, but it's an interesting read, nonetheless.

Jenn said...

I think there is a certain feeling of loss that comes when an author dies. Through their books we feel like we know them on a more personal level. We've read their words and entered different worlds with them. They evoke emotion in us, so we feel more strongly for them.

Jenny said...

I read Zinn's People's History in my high school American History class - my teacher was determined not to give us the American history "party line", so we read a lot of sort of alternative history. I'm so sad that he's died.

Plus? V. worried because people always die in threes. I am concerned that Harper Lee will die next! She is very old!

Carrie K. said...

Just clicking over from my reader long enough to say that you really are a beautiful writer, Amy. So well said.

And I'm off to check out the link about Rich Mullins.

Unknown said...

I have an award for you here.

Melissa Ward said...

Great post, Amy!

Marie Cloutier said...

Yeah. I read A People's History in high school, but not because I had to- I picked it up on a school trip to Washington and it absolutely changed me. It's a wonderful book. I hope you enjoy it.

Ana S. said...

I love what you said about our grief for people we never met being valid. I forget that, even as I genuinely feel it, and worry about my emotions being out of place. But no - they were a part of our lives.

Tif Sweeney said...

I just love what you have said here. Very beautiful and true!!

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