Death is the one human experience that connects everyone, regardless of color, creed, class or bank account. The inequity comes only in its manner and timing.
For Ted Flowers, my father, it came on a beautiful May morning, the day before Mother’s Day in 1982. It came after a year of agony, in the form of a brutal tumor in his lungs that had exploded into the farthest reaches of his battered, beloved body. He was a 43-year-old man who looked as if he’d lived twice that span.
It would never occur to me, no matter how much I hated the person who had lost his battle, to celebrate death’s victory. Of course, people of faith understand that the so-called victory is pyrrhic and short-lived, since as Donne wrote, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.” Still, when you are mourning the loss of someone who some people loved, it is heartless at best, inhuman at the lowest bar of decency to laugh and taunt and say “good riddance.”
I was not surprised in the age of Twitter courtesy to see that happen when Rush Limbaugh died. The conservative radio icon had accumulated a battalion of spiteful enemies, some in high places, and they unleashed a tirade of expected vitriol.
It is important to point out that the unity and compassion the Biden administration calls for will continue to be impossible as long as this cabal of faux tolerance continues to exist. Can’t we just be honest here, and say that there is hatred on both sides of the aisle and be done with it? Or to paraphrase President Trump in the wake of the Charlottesville march, there are evil people on both sides.
We can’t ignore the cruel things that were said by Limbaugh during his long tenure behind the microphone. While much of it was delightfully humorous, and warranted, some of it was indecent and inhuman, as when he celebrated the death of people who had died from AIDS. To his ultimate credit, he apologized for it.
He also called a certain breed of woman “feminazi,” which isn’t exactly original and did seem offensive at the time, although some members of my tribe did have an almost totalitarian way of dealing with opposition. The problem is that when you call anyone anything with the suffix or prefix “Nazi,” you divert attention away from any legitimate point you might have had, which is why I think the word did more harm than actual good.
But even with that, so what? Who cares if your sensitivities were offended by the caustic tongue of the man whose talent was on loan from God? Are we all these princesses sitting on our mattresses and complaining about that tiny pea, that tiny bruising kernel of truth wrapped in insults? Are we all condemned to wear that string of pearls around our necks like some shiny albatross that we clutch and finger and clutch again, any time someone uses harsh words?
We get angry if the wrong pronoun is used, if the right letter isn’t capitalized, if we don’t say things in exactly the way they should be said. Our careers will be derailed because we attended a politically incorrect college event, wearing a dress straight out of “Gone With The Wind.” Heck, our careers will be destroyed even if we only try and explain why someone else did that, as Chris Harrison from “The Bachelor” found out.
In this day and age, it’s not surprising that someone like Limbaugh would have angered so many people who wake up making lists of things that trigger them, or would trigger them if they only happened (and get upset when they don’t actually happen and they have to spend the rest of the day without any offense they can Tweet about).
But that still doesn’t excuse the cruelty exhibited by those who celebrated his death.
That is not me being triggered. That is me, desperately clinging to the facade, the chimera of human decency that I grew up believing to be the default in our relationships with other people, even those we couldn’t stand. I was taught that we do not celebrate death, even when we hated the life that was taken.
Ted Flowers was not perfect. Far, far from it. He had enemies. And yet none of them dared to laugh at his passing, and taunt those of us whose grief is, to this day, beyond imagining.
I am grateful, to God, that he died in the days when our hold on humanity was not so tenuous.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times in Philadelphia and can be reached at email@example.com.