By SEAN DIETRICH
Lord have mercy. Betty White is dead. She inherited her eternal reward on New Year’s Eve, at age 99. Less than 24 hours before the New Year.
It’s been quite a year.
She was the last Golden Girl to go. Her co-star, Estelle Getty (Sophia), died in 2008 at 84 from dementia. Bea Arthur (Dorothy) died of cancer at 86 in 2009. Rue McClanahan (Blanche) died at 76 in 2010 from a stroke. And now Betty.
Lord have mercy.
Most people, of course, will forever remember Betty as her character, Rose Nylund, the giddy Golden Girl from Saint Olaf, Minnesota. But, for some reason, I will always remember her character from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
When I was a boy, our local channel would play Mary Tyler Moore reruns before I caught the schoolbus. I would sit before a screen and laugh whenever Betty White appeared. She cracked immodest jokes, which I somehow knew were inappropriate for freckled Baptist boys. I liked her right then.
But then, so did the rest of the nation. She was America’s grandmother. And she was funny, as evidenced in few of Betty’s words:
“Facebook just sounds like a drag. In my day, seeing pictures of peoples’ vacations was considered punishment.”
“Vodka is kind of a hobby.”
And my personal favorite:
“The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.”
This morning, my neighbor received her current copy of “People” magazine. I saw the glossy issue poking out of the old woman’s mailbox. The cover featured a photo of Betty White with a bold headline that read: “Betty White Turns 100!”
Betty died just seventeen days shy of her 100th birthday. Talk about black irony.
We lose beautiful things every day. Every morning, it seems like something wonderful breathes its last. This year I’ve lost too many friends and too many family members.
In 2021 I attended more funerals than I cared to. I’m afraid that if this keeps up, nobody will be around to attend mine.
We’ve also lost a multitude of little folkways, tiny traditions people often forget about. Hugs. Fewer people hug these days. And handshakes; fist-bumping just doesn’t feel right.
We’ve also lost some of our humor. There was a time when Americans could tell jokes about stuff going on in the world and nobody got offended. Today, it’s fashionable to get offended.
Sometimes, I’m afraid we’ve lost decency toward one another, too. As we round the corner into the next year, I wonder, have we forgotten how to be nice?
A few days ago I was at the supermarket and I saw a young man butt in front of an old woman who was reaching for the last carton of pulp-free orange juice. The kid was maybe fifteen with wavy hair. He wore a 10-dollar shirt with an 80-dollar polo horse sewn on the front.
He stepped in front of the lady, confiscated the OJ, then sauntered away without glancing back. Maybe he was looking for a puppy to kick.
The lady looked like she was about to cry. And if I’m being honest, I was about to cry too. Because I immediately began to wonder what’s happening to our species. Who have we become?
But do you know what? No sooner had I started to lament the current status of mankind than something happened.
An employee approached the old woman. The employee was also a teenager. The young man handed the woman a carton of orange juice, and said, “We had some extra juice in the back. I thought you’d like to have it.”
And the kid didn’t stop there. After that, he handed the woman a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. THEN, he handed her ANOTHER carton of orange juice. Then — get this — the young man actually gave that old woman a hug.
So maybe hugs are making a comeback.
Either way, every time I start to feel blue about the shape of our world, every time I start to poor mouth my own kind, something always changes my mind. I don’t know how this little miracle happens, but it does.
Each time I wonder whether we’ve lost the nucleus of our collective soul, I am reintroduced to my species. And belief begins to form within me. It is a belief that this world is not falling apart, but in fact, blossoming.
I realize what I’m about to say might sound foolish, and you have every right hurl rotten tomatoes in my direction, but I truly believe that it’s not over. We’re not over. Our story is not over. I believe we are just beginning.
I sincerely believe that mankind is learning to become kinder, and learning to become gentle. Yes, I understand that civilizations are still killing each other. Yes, there are wars happening. Yes, this world is a dang mess.
But I also believe that no matter how loudly the naysayers claim that humanity is divided; no matter how the broadcast journalists claim that Americans hate each other; no matter how many doubters point out how screwed up we are; I believe they are wrong.
I believe in hope. I believe this year is going to be better than the last. God help me I do.
Because a wise person once said that the older you get, the better you get. Unless, of course, you’re a banana.
Happy New Year.