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Monday, August 11, 2014

Samuel Johnson on Dealing With Death

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum
and Bookshop, located in Lichfield, England.

It's never easy to accept the passing of a friend or family member. Suddenly, you know that the time of parting has come, and you will never see that person again. The grief that accompanies this realization can be devastating. Yet we all have to accept that someone we admired, respected, and (hopefully) loved has died, and move forward with our lives.

Recently, I've had to accept the death of two friends, neither of whom I was currently close to, but both of which figured prominently in my past. As an aspiring author, death has also dwelt in my thoughts due to the passing of Jay Lake, a celebrated Science Fiction and Fantasy author. Jay Lake wrote hundreds of short stories, and several novels during his short but brilliant career. While he was about my age, he exhibited the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger man. He lent laughter and interest to any convention or event he attended, and will be greatly missed by SF/F readers and fans.

While my recent experiences with death have been palpable, they have been minor compared with that of an extended family member, who has lost two brothers within the past eight months. She is reeling from that double loss, and I grieve with her, even though I cannot physically stand alongside her. The longer we live, the more Death seems a constant companion, someone to be dodged but never really lost or evaded. This forces each of us to accept these deaths, and reclaim the joy of living. If we fail in this, we carry our losses with us into the future, always walking forward while looking backward, and unable to appreciate the joys that tomorrow can bring.

Author Samuel Johnson is renowned for his writings, from his reinterpretations of Shakespeare, to his important English dictionary, to his short novel The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. But he was no stranger to death. As a young man, he had to deal with such notable losses as those of his father Michael Johnson, his friend Harry Porter, and childhood friend and tutor Cornelius Ford. While working on his dictionary, his wife Elizabeth (affectionally known as Tetty) passed away. Then, in his late forties, he had to deal with the death of his mother Sarah. Despite his contributions to literature, Samuel Johnson was not a rich man. In order to pay his mother's funeral costs, he wrote Rasselas. The short novel exploded onto the literary landscape with innumerable editions and translations. Popular authors referenced it in their stories. It's an entertaining story, loaded with observations on life, and Samuel Johnson wrote in a week to pay the costs of his mother's funeral. There's a tremendous energy that comes with grief, and Samuel Johnson channeled that to create a story that entertained his generation, and continues to touch readers' lives.

Death touches all of us at one time or another, and how we deal with our grief determines the course of our lives. Samuel Johnson used his grief to craft a story that celebrates life, and brought joy to people all over the world. Grief can have a positive side, if instead of getting lost in it, we can somehow use it to enrich the lives of others. It's not easy to work through pain, to turn loss into gain, but Samuel Johnson's example shows us that it is possible. That helps me deal with the small yet tangible grief I'm currently feeling. Perhaps, if you're also suffering the pain of loss, his example can help you too.

Dragon Dave 

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