Here’s something of a revised obituary, brought to us by Ben Maddison.
There is a train that goes past my house at 12:30 AM every night, which gives me a lot of opportunities to sleepily scroll through late-night Facebook: a weird and generally silent beast, driven by algorithms and insomnia. Tucked away in that late-night scroll fest—past the photos from yesterday and the hot new clickbait—was this Washington Post article on the obituary of a man named Leslie Charping.
I’m not sure if it falls under the “weird news” category or the “fluff at the end of the broadcast,” but it stopped me in my tracks. The article is typical enough—MAN DIES, FAMILY SAYS BAD THINGS ABOUT HIM PUBLICALLY. But then I read the full obituary, and a forceful expletive escaped as I finished reading.
Leslie Charping lived to be 74, “which was 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved.” He left behind two “relieved” children and a bevy of “victims.” The obituary continues:
“Leslie was surprisingly intelligent, however, he lacked ambition and motivation to do anything more than being reckless, wasteful, squandering the family savings and fantasizing about get-rich-quick schemes…
Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick [witted] sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days…
With Leslie’s passing he will be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and good friend. No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace and no [apologies] to the family he tortured…Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all.”
The Houston Chronicle article on the subject adds some color—diving into Leslie’s past and finding two convictions for assault, one in 1979 and one in 2008. As if to say, “it’s all in good fun,” the article ends:
“Leslie, wherever you are, your obit is crashing the funeral home’s website for all the wrong reasons.”
I can’t be sure that the family didn’t post this as some “inside joke” their father would have loved; but it strikes me as genuine—years of pent-up anger, disappointment, sadness, and abuse, the stuff that always comes to the surface when people die. And that made me sad for Leslie’s family.
But then it made me nervous. Couldn’t my family, my closest relatives, write an obituary similar to this? “Ben was naturally bright, but he used that to eke by and not put out a lot of effort. He had an ability to push people’s buttons and verbally abuse them with his quick wit. He did not contribute to society or serve the community or have any redeeming qualities. Good riddance.”
At my core—aren’t I Leslie Charping—aren’t we all Leslie Charping.
We let people down, we hurt the ones we love, we could always give more and take less.
Mockingbird introduced me to Silence by Shūsaku Endō (and its also a major motion picture by Martin Scorsese—GO SEE IT). Leslie Charping reminded me of a passage from the book:
This child also would grow up like its parents and grandparents to eke out a miserable existence face to face with the black sea in this cramped and desolate land; it, too, would live like a beast, and like a beast, it would die. But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt — this is the realization that came home to me acutely at that time. (71)
If the bad news is we are all Leslie Charping, the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save the Leslie Charpings of this world.
For all those who aren’t enough, who are mean and abusive and angry, for those who have been the victims or targets of those people—the good news is still good news.
Jesus came to save even Leslie Charping. God bless him.