What can you do but cry and laugh a bit and bow your head in homage to a spirit so big and bright that it turns nerve degeneration and fast-encroaching death into a literary and radio event worth celebrating?
This morning was Dudley Clendenin’s final broadcast. Dudley is an author, former reporter and editorial writer for The New York Times, and an all-around dashing and widely beloved southern gentleman. Since late 2010, he has also been a patient diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which leads to progressive weakness, paralysis and death.
But instead of curling up and despairing, Dudley has spoken out, writing an acclaimed op-ed piece and sharing his thoughts and experiences on Baltimore’s WYPR show “Maryland Morning” in an extraordinary series called “Living with Lou: Dudley Clendinen on a Good Short Life.”
It is brave radio, because Dudley’s voice was sure to deteriorate as the disease progressed, and indeed, he is very hard to understand now. (WYPR provides transcripts of the last two shows.)
But it is riveting radio, as well: Even as my eyes filled with tears, I found myself on the edge of my seat, eager to hear what this lyrical and loving man would teach me as he faced that place where we all must go. I laughed when he said he’d like to borrow his epitaph from the title of an Ogden Nash collection, “I wouldn’t have missed it.”
But the tears overflowed when he said, in his near-incomprehensible rumble, that he felt grateful because “Everyone has to die but not many of us are asked to talk about it.” Continue reading