I was 8 years old when I went to the first funeral that I was old enough to remember. One evening my cousin and two of his good friends decided to rob a Burger King. The cops were called pretty early in the process, so they were less than successful with the heist. They didn’t put up a fight once they were caught, but it sure looked that way. When I saw it on the news the police officers that responded had beaten my cousin to the point both of his eyes were shut, his face was swollen pretty bad in general, that’s after they cleaned him up. His friend that went in with him, Jay, supposedly shot himself in the bathroom surrounded by police officers. My skepticism about the police version of what happened aside, the end result was his death. Though I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase before, his funeral was the first time it ever stuck in my head that the good die young.
I know what you may be thinking, “they were robbing a Burger King, the good part doesn’t apply” but the totality of a person can’t be judged on a single act. This event happened in January of 1990, about 7 months earlier I was standing outside of my aunt’s house when one of my cousins threw a bicycle wheel that hit me in the head…immediately opening up a huge cut. I must’ve lost consciousness because this scene had two parts. Part one was me moving to what I thought was a safe distance while my cousin pretended we were at the hood Olympics, spinning in place to launch the wheel like a discus. hen being on the side of my aunt’s house unable to see through the blood. Part 2 was me being carried by my cousin and another person to my aunts apartment with blood all over my face and clothes.
My mother was panicking and scolding my cousin at the same time. My aunt got some ice and some towels to stop the bleeding. I wanted to sleep it off or put a Band-Aid on it, anything but go to the hospital. At that moment Jay, knocked on the door. He walked into my aunt’s kitchen and saw me bleeding, his immediate response was “aw nah we gotta get my lil man to the hospital”. He returned with his car, carried me downstairs, and we went to the closest ER. He sat there in the lobby for a while, I apologized for bleeding in his car while the staff took their sweet time seeing me. He checked on me all summer and always gave me a dollar or two to get something from the store when he saw me. I saw him outside one day in the fall, he just finished washing his car and I asked if I could ride in the front seat. It was a Mazda 323 sedan, but it was like a Bentley to me. Either way, he took me for a ride and bought me some candy, then dropped me off at home. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw him alive. All that to say, to me, and others in our neighborhood, he was a good guy.
When Does “Young” End?
Unfortunately, his was not the last funeral of a young person. Every instance of a person dying before 45, it seems that phrase is applied to them. In the so-called East Coast vs. West Coast, media hyped hip hop beef, 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G were both killed at 25 and 24 respectively. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, and several other notable people died at 27. MLK and Malcolm X both died at 39, which, now that I’m 41 years old, is young to me. In the world of sports, Payne Stewart, Kobe Bryant, Drazen Petrovic, and Len Bias all passed away young and many more people. These are just a few of the famous people I know that died young. For the ones that passed when I was alive and old enough to know about, I heard the saying directly. For the ones that passed away before my time or when I was too young to know about, their greatness was enough to inspire that phrase when I heard stories of them.
I’ll be honest, as a genuinely good person, who is also relatively young, I am not a fan of the saying at all. On one hand it sounds like a curse for being a good human being, and on the other a slight to old people that make it past subjectively young ages. I don’t know the earliest mention of it, but the Bible is cited as a possible source. Isaiah chapter 57, verse 1 is what is used, but it seems like a loose correlation depending on the version cited. I’m going to pause to point out how crazy that reality is. Depending on which version of the Bible you look in, there is either a direct link to the “good die young” saying or a very loose, “this is what I take from this” link to the phrase. So many count the Bible as THE word of God as spoken to all of these anonymous writers from antiquity, however, everyone is seemingly allowed to interpret those original works or later revised versions to create their version of THE word of God, and upon this ridiculously shaky platform, religious beliefs stand firm today. Amazing if nothing else.
And We’re Back
It could just be me, but it seems as if dying young has morphed into a badge of honor, widely attributed to God. Either God is running low on good, young spirits in heaven or there is looming calamity that the “good people” are too good to endure, regardless of their value to their families or the world at large. Though some may find comfort in that, I find these takes on it to be ridiculous. People make God out to be omnipotent when asking for things and impotent when good people die at young ages, as if these good people are the secret ingredient needed at that moment for whatever God is doing at the time. Never mind the people on Earth that truly need their help and wisdom, the all-powerful God NEEDS that person in heaven, ASAP for a mission that can’t wait until his or her child is old enough to remember them or absorb some of their good.
Death Is Certain
Good or bad, all people die…you didn’t need me to state that, but I felt it necessary to say. Granted, “why” we die when we do is far above my paygrade, I don’t believe it to be due to God needing company, or because certain people are better at being people than others. I don’t believe it to be the devil at work killing off the people that God would otherwise want alive, because then the devil is equal to God, and that just sucks. I believe we all have a purpose while we’re here and some realize it earlier than others. Meanwhile, some never realize it and their early demise rings as a cautionary tale to those that remain to live their purpose, thus becoming their purpose, or at least one of them.
Believe me, I’m in no rush to leave, but in the event that I do depart this world at a young age, I hope the phrase and any rendition of “we needed him, but God needed him more” is absent from my obituary. If one believes God is omnipotent or that our Earthly attributes are “God given”, then it’s contradictory to also believe that God needs those talents back sooner than later. Just my little take on that.