The Death of Control

My wife has one unrelenting addiction: “Jeopardy!” If there is time, she will watch, and […]

My wife has one unrelenting addiction: “Jeopardy!” If there is time, she will watch, and if I am there, I will sit through it.

In his 35 years on the syndicated nightly show, Alex Trebek has become an icon. His hushed superiority, muffled humor, and obvious judgments of the players and the game are, now, clichés. SNL had a brief run of their own “Celebrity Jeopardy” where the questions revealed the monstrous inanities of the “guests”, with “Trebek” playing the aghast straight man. “Jeopardy!” and Trebek have become, well, cultural, not just entertainment or ad vehicles (even the ads on the show use the show’s format and history to better sell their products).

We now know Alex Trebek will die in a few years, or sooner.

Somehow we are “shocked”. But he is 78. We all die. But somehow, in the unrelenting regularity of a 35-year tradition and the fixture of its host (I know no other in the last 35 years of nighttime broadcast), death is now akin to the passing of a “star” or an institution. Soon the drumbeat of “Who will replace Alex?” will begin. In the meantime the “thoughts and prayers” are flowing from millions who invested 22 minutes a day, 5 days a week for up to 35 years.

It is the death of a very lucky man in life, from a disease that simply happens — no victimization, no awful life choice, no cruel accident. Just pancreatic cancer. Alex’s response: “I will fight this… I have a 3-year contract to fulfill!” We cheer his happy resolve, we hope he does defeat death.

But he, you, I will die. I never want to die. I want my head in a jar, looking out as long as I can see and process what I see. The break from the here and now, from “Jeopardy!”, is simply incomprehensible. And that is the point.

If we are terrified, we have 3 choices:

  • Numb the terror with distraction
  • Fight the terror tooth and nail
  • Resign ourselves to the terror and let it just happen

Oh, wait. There is a fourth choice: hope.

If I were a more faithful person, I would simply read all the “white light at the end of the tunnel” books and the story of the resurrection in the Bible and be good with my death, with Trebek’s death, with my losing a job or getting a cold.

But I do not do these things. Even though I know God is with me, right now, and that I am loved, I really do not want to die. When a hint of death is received, anger and fear and denial manifest in all of us — and we all attempt what our species is best at attempting and hilariously incompetent at attaining: control.

JEOPARDY!, host Alex Trebek (during ‘Final Jeopardy’ segment), 1984-, u00A9 ABC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

We job and sex and build and drink and drip ourselves to a frenzy to prove that even though we may die some day, we are not dead. Yet. And maybe, by the work that we do now, we will only ever be physically dead. So many of us weave elaborate, extreme tales of the afterlife, if canon, that we think will redeem us, of others being irredeemable, of everything but one, very hard truth.

We do not know.

So we try to control what we can.

Instead, what we, or at least I, know is that there is meaning I cannot define but that I can accept. There is no reason that you or I are loved. But we are. That extreme break when holding a baby, seeing a thing where God is, or just hearing the notes of some song: these fleeting piercing truths are as real as pancreatic cancer. To most of us, these realities of the unnecessarily perfect are infinitely more real than Alex Trebek. But millions this morning are worried, shedding a tear, sending a prayer to an image on a screen.

For the Christian, the death 2,000 years ago of a man in Jerusalem validated our doubts. He was publicly, fully killed in long, open, undeniable reality. No happy resolve, no simple infection or spawn of cancer, no unforeseen accident. A person, like a lot of other persons then, and now, was simply wrecked over the course of a day by other humans who were, well, afraid.

Then something happened.

So many people I know believe in the meaning of their astrological sign but deny any meaning in Christ’s death. Fear is a great motivator, but not a truthful one.

Alex Trebek will die, like each and every one of us. But 2,000 years ago, another death meant something more. The religiously educated have analyzed it and circumscribed it and rationalized it and objectified it to the point of absurdity: like everything else humans do. This understanding is needed and sought and, I think, even obtained by some. But most of us are simply scared, so we try to control what little we can. We watch “Jeopardy!” and see no irony in its name and in Alex Trebek’s death.

In Lent, in Easter, there are truths about myself that I do not understand, realities of love I cannot define. The larger reality was revealed, briefly, 2,000 years ago. And maybe, even, revealed in death, too.

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4 responses to “The Death of Control”

  1. hespenshied says:

    I will profoundly miss him when he’s gone. I can’t even begin to fathom the possibility of a replacement. He is smug, and arrogant, and awkward, and stilted, and vanilla….. he’s also the greatest game show host of all time, and a “pro’s pro”. May God please ease his pain and surround him with people who remind him how much he is loved…..

  2. John Lynch says:

    I guess the only other host of night time would have to be Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

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