27 Apr 2009

Christo’s Revenge

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Pat and Bill Buckley, 1981

About 30 years ago, William F. Buckley, Jr. published a monumentally insensitive obituary in which his own subjectivity and personality were allowed to usurp the space traditionally reserved for compliments toward and expressions of personal regard for the recently departed. A number of friends of the deceased, including present company, were absolutely infuriated, and some of us never really looked upon WFB in exactly the same way again afterwards.

A tradition of inappropriately self-indulgent behavior in the face of death must be part of the Buckley family culture, because here is Chris Buckley in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine cheerfully quoting Oscar Wilde (“Jack: I have lost both my parents. Lady Bracknell: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”) as an epigraph to a feature on the deaths of his parents, before moving right along to share, with awe-inspiring complacency, the sorts of private details and opinions on family relationships and deathbed scenes which the overwhelming majority of us do not share.

Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement.

Indeed, it did.

Professional writers, I tend to think, particularly those of Ivy League background, acquire too commonly an addiction to attention. They sometimes just don’t know when to stop.

3:59 audio slideshow

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