SPidge Tales

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Only the Good Die Young

Only the good die young.”—Billy Joel

Billy Joel popularized this sentiment in song and verse. We lose all the good people early, while we’re stuck with the grumpy old bags. Obviously, we have some nice examples of good people biting the bullet early. Think Jesus Christ and Ann Frank. And, there are bad people out there who refuse to die. Think Fidel Castro and George Steinbrenner. Of course, I’m sure there are many bad people who died young (Jeffrey Dahmer) and good people who lived to ripe old ages (Mother Theresa, St. Antony the Hermit). What Billy Joel, and anyone who uses this phrase, could really mean, I think, is that the people who leave us early don’t have the chance to mess things up with us. There are people we rarely see who we miss, who we might otherwise not think so fondly of if they were always around. Think of the t-shirt that says “How can I miss you if you never leave?”

We recognize this impulse with our beloved sports figures. We’d rather they retire early, even if we miss watching them perform, than see them hang around too long as shells of their former selves. Think Babe Ruth hobbling around that final season with the Boston Braves, Muhammad Ali getting pounded in the late stages of his boxing career, Michael Jordan unable to will the Washington Wizards to the playoffs, let alone a championship, Barry Bonds limping around the outfield with his oversized head, flailing and missing at pitches he used to deposit into McCovey Cove. On second thought, I enjoy watching Barry Bonds struggle without the cream and the clear. It’s the others we cannot bear to watch disintegrate.

This impulse even causes us to wonder if classic tragedies may even be for the best. Romeo and Juliet never were able to stay together because of family politics and fate, but who knows, maybe if the Capulets and Montagues got along, Romeo and Juliet would have grown sick of each other after a decade of marriage. Juliet may have grown impatient with Romeo always going to the bar after work, coming home late, and never helping with the dishes. Or, maybe Juliet would have cheated on Romeo, causing him to leave her. Then, they would have split up and grown old and bitter, instead of dying young, always having the memory of what was and what could never be.

Maybe our daydreams and fantasies are better when they don’t work out, and we wonder about what could have been. The tragedy that prevents the dream come true may be less sad than the dream come true not being what we expected. This brings to mind another cliché, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

This is probably why dating advice columnists in magazines like Maxim tell you to chat with a girl for a few minutes, get her number, and get out of there. If you stick around too long, you are bound to do something stupid to cause her to lose interest.

We all want the perfect ending. There will always be that aura of mystery about figures like James Dean and Roberto Clemente, who died young and tragically, or Sandy Koufax, who retired early and stays in mostly seclusion. They don’t come back into the public eye to tarnish their image, like Joe Namath did with Suzy Kolber, or William Shatner does every time he appears on anything (Click here to see William Shatner sing Rocketman at the 1978 SciFi awards; he was actually trying to be serious. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN3MGN899yE&search=William%20Shatner ). It’s a weighing of possibilities. Do I give up the chance to further my legacy, or do I go for it and risk ruining what I already have? It’s the internal debate that happens every time a person weighs whether to attempt to take a friendship with a member of the opposite sex to the next level. Do I risk the friendship for something more, knowing that if a romantic relationship does not work out, it may be hard to go back to being just friends?

Is it better to fly swiftly into and out of people’s lives, leaving a good mark and then going, having them wish you could have stuck around longer, being a “good” one who “dies young”, or is better to stay awhile in people’s lives, allowing others to experience the good and bad, to let others see your flowers and your warts, to see fully the real you? I don’t know. But, the later is probably better. We will be revealed in full before our Creator at the end, so why hide it all now?


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