If truth can be stranger than fiction, can it also be cornier? More heavy-handed? Something that would make the observer roll his eyes if featured in a novel or film — but tough to ignore because it’s real life?
This query occurred to me when, mere weeks before the debut of our new year, former pop superstar David Cassidy passed away, aged 67. The teen idol’s visibility was monstrous in the early 1970s. I remember, not because I was a particular fan, but because his “I Think I Love You” was one of the first Top-40 tunes that penetrated my nine-year-old consciousness back then. Theretofore, my musical awareness had trended pretty much only to Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, assorted crooners and the like — my father’s favorites, in other words. Yet, I’ve a fairly distinct memory of getting off the elementary school bus with Cassidy’s hit song rolling around in my brain. I also thought the comedy series which he headlined for four seasons, The Partridge Family, was hilarious.
For a time, it looked like the twenty-year-old was taking over the world — then his star briskly eclipsed. He continued working, mind you — theater, TV gigs, some touring — and even scored a handful of additional charting records in the years following. But the Manhattan-born entertainer never again attained the crazed, stratospheric heights of in-demandness he enjoyed for a brief spell nearly fifty years ago.
Predictably included in the singer’s journey were the clichéd catalog of celebrity tribulations: multiple marriages and failed relationships, absentee fatherhood, bouts of alcoholism, health problems.
In a development I’d scoff at were it included in a scripted, dramatic production, but which Cassidy’s thirty-year-old actress/daughter Katie confirms, before succumbing to kidney and liver failure his final words were: “So much wasted time.”
Gulp. Well, that’s a heart-stopper if ever there was one. Are we watching a horror movie?
With his “Rosebud” moment, David Cassidy actually rendered an invaluable service — likely unintentionally — to the rest of humanity. His daughter, meanwhile, was clearly purposeful in tweeting her dad’s shattering death-bed profession: “This will be a daily reminder for me to share my gratitude with those I love as to never waste another minute”.
Another celebrity — this one of eighteenth-century vintage — once zingingly put it this way, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” (Ben Franklin)
Certainly, there is no better time to stop wasting time than the present. Now. This instant.
During repeated, Christmas-season viewings of George C. Scott’s excellent Christmas Carol (1980) — the second best version, in my opinion after 1951’s Scrooge — I’ve lately been struck by a closing scene. Responding to family members’ happy exclamations at his benevolent transformation, Scrooge gasps, “God forgive me for all the time I’ve wasted.” That line is an augmentation on Charles Dickens’ dialogue — lacking in the novella’s original text — but it’s a powerfully beneficial one.
Nowadays, there’s a somewhat humorous quip in circulation, usually bitingly hauled out after something pointless or exasperating occurs: “Well, that’s [unit of time] I’ll never get back.”
We chuckle, but there’s a note of tragedy behind it, too. Time thrown away — never good.
It’s reported that history-changing revivalist John Wesley was nearly fanatical about the stewardship of his days, hours and minutes. “Lord, let me not live to be useless,” was his imperishable prayer; one that was signally answered. Basil Miller writes, “when once [Wesley] lost five minutes it required much water to run under the bridge of his life until he could forget those ‘five minutes lost forever.’ ” The result of his fructifying attitude toward the tick-tocking of the clock? “[A] long and glory-topped career … [H]e traveled a quarter million miles … preached forty-two thousand sermons … and … the total of his books … come to more than two hundred.” I’d add, he mid-wifed a spiritual revolution which has literally changed the world.
As a young boy, then young man, I watched my dad put these “Weslyan” principles to practice on a daily basis: courses on various topics, books on tape, news recorded from the previous night, etc. would be blaring from their players as he shaved, showered, jogged, performed his regular calisthenics, commuted. There were tightly scheduled early morning reading sessions (two pages/day from a half-dozen books) and regularly “saying his prayers” while walking. “Never miss a chance to do two things at once, ” he once advised me. Old, time-conscious Ben Franklin, long a figure who’s fascinated my father, would approve.
Who was it? Another one of America’s founders, perhaps, who suggested never being caught without something to read in down times, waiting times? Sure beats staring distractedly at the wall.
Not that it’s only about “doing stuff’, by the way. As Scrooge discovered upon his spiritual awakening, as David Cassidy seemingly recognized rather late in his life, our connections with loved ones, with people in general, must take priority. Time systematically focused on building relationships is always well-invested; maybe best invested.
Indeed, exhortations to set our lives, houses, schedules in order are pandemic this final week of the year. So commonplace they’re almost hackneyed, they keep turning up for a reason, nonetheless. They resonate with folks as we are nudged to glance backward and admonished to peer forward. Part of most of us recognizes the soundness of these counsels: Every day, every moment is a gift, never to come around again, not to be frittered away.
“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time,
because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5: 15, 16)
A just-deceased music legend who enjoyed his all-too-transient flash in the limelight just conveniently but unsettlingly drove home these reminders, all over again.
Heart-rendingly, it may have clicked with him too late. But, are you breathing? Is your heart still thumping? Then it’s not too late for you.
Image: David Cassidy — Hamburg, Germany, 1973; Excerpted from: Heinrich Klaffs – http://www.flickr.com/photos/
heiner1947/4515402236, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12206055