After his obituary had been published by the New York Journal on June 2, 1897, Mark Twain wrote, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Twain managed to hang on until April 2, 1910. Last month, Apple founder Steve Jobs was the victim of a seventeen-page premature obituary sent out by the Bloomberg Financial Newswire. It seems that it isn't that uncommon for living people to have their obituaries printed by mistake. There's even a fairly extensive list of premature obituaries at Wikipedia.
It shoudn't have come as any great surprise to me, then, when I went to the mailbox the other day and found a letter from the United Church of Christ addressed "To the Family of Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith." I was curious, so I made the self-serving determination that, since I am a member of my own family, I was entitled to open the envelope. What I found surprised me.
The letter read, in part:
Please accept our deepest sympathy on the passing of your loved one.
We would like to pay tribute to the Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith in the 2009 Yearbook of the United Church of Christ, available next spring.
Please take a few moments to fill out and return the enclosed form. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated and will give all those who read this section of the Yearbook the opportunity to remember and celebrate your loved one's ministry...
I could hardly belive what I was reading. Me?? Dead?? I've often given a polite smile when people trot out the old saw about reading the obituaries every morning and then getting out of bed if they don't see their name, but this had me worried. Maybe I was dead.
After all, it is has been a difficult couple months and the aging process seems to have jumped into high gear. I've celebrated a birthday. I've received an AARP card AND I've gotten new glasses. They aren't bifocals, but the prescription is stronger than my old glasses. Maybe the people at the denomination's headquarters knew something I didn't. I called the phone number on the letter to check out what was going on, but ended up having to leave a message on voice mail. Since it was a Friday, I knew that it would be several days before Cleveland could verify my life status.
I was delighted when my son came home from school, because he took one look at me and told me that I was definitely alive. What a relief!!
"But maybe the yearbook office is just really efficient and they just sent the letter out a day or two early," he suggested helpfully. "Maybe you're going to get hit by a bus tomorrow."
Now I was really worried. I didn't mind being dead so much, as long as it meant that I had gotten the dying part over with already, but I wasn't particularly looking forward to meeting my end beneath the wheels of a runaway bus. By exercising extreme caution, I managed to live through the weekend and was ecstatic when I received a phone call from the Yearbook Office on Monday morning, informing that there had been a clerical error and that I was, in fact, alive and, as far as they knew, am scheduled to remain so for the forseeable future.
So I guess I'll have to come up with another reason why I haven't written anything for two weeks.