Living in Jeopardy!

“This TV host jarred millions with his cancer news, even though most have never met him.”

“Who is Alex Trebek?”

Talk about hitting me in the childhood.

Ok, shocking surprise here: I grew up a Jeopardy! geek. Each afternoon, Mom and I would set aside time for the big board with the slyly worded trivia facts and the weird form-of-a-question protocol for the answers. We always swore that if the producers ever created Pairs Jeopardy, we’d go on together, since we covered each other’s weakest areas – she could ace the entertainment questions while I could take on the sports ones.

And at the center of it all was Alex. The quiet voice, wry manner, and a mustache so famous in its own right that he made national headlines by shaving it. Someone recently joked that he had the dream job of every Canadian – going on national television to politely tell Americans that they didn’t know as much as they thought.

And then, a few days ago, he revealed an answer that none of us expected. Namely, that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Dang it.

I think a lot of us winced – and not just because the name is familiar. Pancreatic is a nasty one. Notoriously difficult to detect, it tends to only be spotted when it’s already quite advanced. Heather and I once lost a much-loved pastor, the Rev. Ralph Jackman, to it after two rounds of the disease … diagnosed, recovered, diagnosed again.

And then those two hated words – Stage 4. The ones too many of us are familiar with from a friend or loved one. The ones that say “The clock is ticking, and there’s not a lot of time to reset the alarm.”

The ones that make you think, for just a second, about your own time.

We’re usually good at ignoring that. After all, if you stop to think about it, all of us are on a limited clock – and most of us don’t stop to think about it. We go on with the usual grind, the daily grumble, the stuff that we’re going to do one of these days.

Mind you, we sort of have to. Back in college, I saw a cartoon with the caption “Bob lived every day as though it were his last.” In the picture, a crazed man with wild eyes was running through the scene screaming “I’M GONNA DIE! I’M GONNA DIE!” None of us need to live in that kind of panic.

In fact, if anything, we’re called to a paradox.

On the one hand, we need to remember that life is short. We need to appreciate people while they’re here, to notice the world while we can, to chase the want-to-do’s while we still have the ability.

But we also need to keep going like the music won’t stop. To go into each day with assurance and plan for the next. To live without fear and look to the future.

Yeah, I’m not so great at that, either. But I’ve had some amazing examples.

The preacher I mentioned, Pastor Ralph? The Sunday before he died, he sat to preach rather than stand. And then announced he was beginning part 1 of a new series.

Even now, that leaves me shaking my head in admiration. Stubborn. Maybe even a little foolhardy. But still teaching a lesson, and not just the one in the text. One that fits a very old saying: “While we live – let us live.”

So here’s to Mr. Trebek. I wish him the best, and all of us who may be facing something similar. May we not just endure, but live, with whatever life we have. After all, if you don’t stake it all when Final Jeopardy hits, when are you going to?

Think about it.

And please remember to answer in the form of a question.

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