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.

Exit, Left

There’s been a Marian-sized hole in my heart this week.

Those of you who read this paper regularly understand. Not long ago, the Longmont Theatre Company lost one of its stalwarts, Marian Bennett. On and offstage, she touched more lives than a workaholic chiropractor. She could communicate volumes about a character with one perfectly timed gleam in her eye and make you breathless with suspense or helpless with laughter.

I want to say she’s irreplaceable. She’d laugh at that and deflate the notion with her familiar Texas twang. And maybe she’d be right. All of us are … and none of us are. We all bring something unique that goes quiet when we leave. And barring a dramatic change in the history of the world, all of us are going to leave. Life is hazardous to your health, and the rest of us have to be ready to carry on when time brings another of us into the majority.

Easy to say. Hard to feel, to acknowledge, to own.

Especially when it’s someone close.

Doubly so when it’s someone who so undeniably lived.


Fill  to me the parting glass,

And drink a health whate’er befalls,

Then gently rise and softly call,

Goodnight and joy be to you all.

– The Parting Glass, traditional


The phrase “grande dame” can be easily misconstrued. It can suggest someone on a pedestal at best, a prima donna at the worst. But it literally means the great lady. Marian herself was charmed by the title until she looked it up in a dictionary and found that one of the definitions was “a highly respected elderly or middle-aged woman.”

“That (title) made me feel pretty good until I realized they were saying I was old,” she told me with one of her stage grimaces.

But Marian really did fill a room. Some of it was physical – she was a tall woman who naturally drew attention. A lot of it was that she did her best to reach out to everyone nearby. She wanted to talk, to chat, to hug – but you didn’t feel smothered. You kind of felt like your next-door neighbor had just come over to catch up.

On stage, that translated into the most perfect sense of timing I’ve seen in an actress. She could discard her dignity entirely to cross the stage in roller skates, or gather it around her to become King Lear himself, but she was always who she needed to be, where she needed to be.

Part of that was because backstage she worked like a fiend. (She and I often drilled lines on opening night, just to be absolutely sure.) Part of it was confidence, the same confidence that led her to travel, to speak her mind, to welcome a friend on one meeting. A lot of it may have been her willingness to look cockeyed at the world, and enjoy it when others did, too.

She could be nervous or anxious, like any actor. But I never saw her afraid. You can’t be if you go on stage. You have to be able to look inside yourself and then share it with the world.

Come to think of it, that’s true off stage, too. Life is more fun, more alive, if you can live it without fear. Not without common sense (Mar had plenty of that) but without drawing back from what you might find.

Even that makes her sound like a lesson. Granted, we all are to each other. But we’re all so much more, too. We’re friends and family and teachers and neighbors, connected by more than we can see.

And when that connection is broken, it hurts. For a long time. It never quite heals the same way … and it shouldn’t. You’ve loved them, cared for them, taken on some of their memories. Of course, they’re not going to vanish from your mind and soul like an overdue library book.

They’ve touched you – and you bear their fingerprints.

Goodbye, my friend. It was a pleasure to know you, an honor to work with you.

Take your bow with pride.

I’ll see you after the show.