“Hello, I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.” How’s that for an exit line? It opened his video obituary for the New York Times . Buchwald, who has been amusing and charming Americans with his humorous insights, often at the expense of the nation’s political elites, prepared for his death the way he lived his life with wit, grace, and plenty of laughs. His passing serves not only as a reminder that we have lost a great American writer, but that death (at least for folks past a certain age) need not always be feared. Or if it is feared, perhaps talking about it, will make it seem less intimidating.
And that’s what Buchwald had been busy doing. For the past year of his life, he said he had been given a kind of reprieve. Suffering from kidney failure doctors gave him only weeks to live; ultimately those weeks stretched to nearly a year. That gave Buchwald time to hold open court to say good-bye to his many friends and admirers. He also wrote another book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye .
An exercise in leadership development programs is to ask participants to write their obituary, or better yet, their eulogy. The former may list accomplishments; the later is how you want to be remembered. For perspective the eulogy is the better because it challenges us to look inside ourselves, but more especially to look at the impact (or lack of it) we are having on colleagues, friends and family. And that’s why Buchwald’s passing is memorable. He epitomized the phrase “a life worth living” to which we can add “with plenty of laughs.” So, here’s what else we can learn from the maestro of humor.
Keep perspective. Buchwald lampooned the big shots. “Have you ever seen a candidate talking to a rich person on television?” Or how about this: “Just when you think there’s nothing to write about, Nixon says, ‘I am not a crook.’ Jimmy Carter says, ‘I have lusted after women in my heart.’ President Reagan says, ‘I have taken a urinalysis and I am not on dope.’” In Buchwald’s world everyone is all-too human. (Source: CNN.com )
Remember: life is short. “I am known in the hospice as the Man Who Wouldn’t Die,” Buchwald wrote in his column. “But in case you’re wondering, I’m having a swell time.” And why not? He had received a death sentence from his doctors but he was ignoring it with each passing day. (Source: Washington Post )
It’s okay to have an ego. “I just don’t want to die on the same day as Castro,” Buchwald told friend, Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post. Buchwald knew that the death of Castro would suck all the oxygen out of media coverage of his own passing Fortunately for Buchwald he did get a proper public sendoff. (Source: Washington Post )
And one last thought Buchwald included in final book. “I don’t know how long I’ll be around… But if nothing else, I know I made an awful lot of people happy.” And that’s not a bad exit line, either.