The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

Comedian Woody Allen said famously, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Well, columnist Art Buchwald is “there” when it’s happening and he’s reporting from the front lines.

You can’t pick up a magazine ( or listen to a radio station ( without reading or hearing an interview with this 80 year old Pulitzer-winning humorist who was told by his doctor 4 months ago that his kidney was failing and he only had a few weeks left to live.

Following this dire diagnosis and his decision to refuse further dialysis, he was moved to a hospice to go not so quietly into that good night.

Mr. Buchwald is still there, writing two syndicated columns a week, receiving friends ranging from Tom Brokaw and Maria Shriver to the French Ambassador for the U.S. who bestowed upon him France’s highest honor for arts and letters, and enjoying the cheesecakes, ice cream and other goodies sent by people who, in his words, “want to DO something for him.”

He even signed a book deal with Random House to chronicle his insights surrounding this unanticipated second chance at life. Its name? Stand By for Heaven: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.

What made his story POP! out is not just its improbability and his savoring of every extra hour, it’s that he dares to address the “elephant in the room” subject of death honestly instead of verbally tip-toeing around it.

He talks frankly about what it’s like to think every moment could be your last. He talks about the absurdity of a few visitors who came to see him, only to complain how difficult it was to find a parking place on the crowded street outside the hospice (!) He has become, in his words, “a celebrity of death.”

I prefer to think of him as an emissary of death. Emissary is defined as “a representative sent on a mission or errand.” I think Art Buchwald is wisely using his platform of press attention to remind us that most of us won’t get a second chance. He’s filling every bonus day with what matters most so he has no regrets. Carly Simon had agreed to sing at his memorial on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Buchwald is traveling there in early July, and Carly has agreed to sing for him upon his arrival. As he said, “I’m sure I’ll enjoy her singing ‘All the Familiar Places’ more now than I would if she’d sung at my funeral.”

What’s this got to do with you? If you have only one chance at reaching people, what message do you want to get across? Is there a forbidden or sensitive aspect of your issue? How could you be the bold emissary who addresses it instead of dancing around it?

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