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On New Year’s Day, let’s celebrate others while they’re alive, not after they’re dead.

Anybody have any New Year resolutions? My request and suggestion.

Can we please celebrate each other while we’re alive? I was tired of going to the funerals of people I thought I knew well. But after the eulogies begin, I find out more than I could have imagined about how great they were.

My request and suggestion: let’s literally use our birthdays as the day of our celebration – a real holiday – as a Kennedy Center awards ceremony. You may have watched a CBS show last month.

Like every year, the center in Washington, D.C. hosted a star-studded celebration of creative achievement. This year’s top five artists included actor George Clooney, singer-songwriter Amy Grant, singer-songwriter Gladys Knight, composer/conductor/teacher Tanya Leon, and four-piece rock band U2. Various other television awards programs have variations on similar ideas—the Oscars and the Golden Globes, as well as the occasional Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremonies.

Kennedy Center president Deborah F. Rutter said in the center’s press release that many past recipients describe the Center’s awards as “the pinnacle of honors because they recognize … the artist’s cumulative body of work and influence over many decades.” This pretty much describes the rebooted “Birthday Flower Ceremony” that I’m introducing to everyone starting this year.

The non-profit digital oral history archive The HistoryMakers has a similar idea. Harvard-trained lawyer Julianne Richardson of Chicago can be commended for founding the archive 23 years ago as a vehicle for researchers and students to learn about the unexpected successes of African Americans who have reached the heights of their careers.

There is the classic gospel song “Give Me My Flowers” performed by James Cleveland and others. Unfortunately, the author of the text cannot be verified, this in itself is a message about underestimating someone’s contribution, which is eventually lost in time. But here is the poignant yet clear message of the lyrics:

Give me my flowers while I’m still alive

so I can see the beauty they bring.

Speak kind words to me while I hear them.

So that I can hear the comfort they bring.

Friends and relatives can give me flowers

when I’m sick or in a hospital bed.

But I’d rather just have one tulip now

than a blanket full of roses when I die.

Here’s a reminder of the hundreds of famous people who left us in 2022, probably adorned with many flowers: Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain; actors Sidney Poitier, Bob Saget and Angela Lansbury; American Indian Movement founder Clyde Bellecour; singers Loretta Lynn, Olivia Newton-John and Naomi Judd; former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev; Star Trek Nichelle Nichols; sports stars Pele and Bill Russell; Autherina Lucy Foster, the first black student at the University of Alabama; Pope Benedict XVI; leading television presenters Barbara Walters and Gloria Rojas; Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, Pastor of the Historic Abyssinian Baptist Church; Dr. Donald Pinkel, who developed a cure for childhood leukemia; and Brent Renault, an American journalist killed while reporting in Ukraine.

Then there are personalities like the controversial Albert Woodfox. He was part of a three-member group called “Angola 3” and died this year from complications of COVID-19. He made his life memorable by living nearly 44 years in solitary confinement – considered the longest solitary confinement in U.S. history – at the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. The former Black Panther was convicted of the 1972 murder of Brent Correctional Officer. Miller.

Woodfox reportedly made positive changes while in prison, duly counseled other inmates during his one-hour daily release from a closed cell, and always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International investigated his numerous allegations of inhuman treatment and finally agreed on a deal and reduced charges. He was released in 2016 and died in August 2022 at the age of 75.

As part of the Birthday/Obit reboot, what kind of tribute are we paying to Woodfox? His distinction persists for more than four decades in solitary confinement, uselessly claiming inhuman treatment. There are no easy answers.

However, the scenario of the flower ceremony in honor of the birthday – much the same as the funeral program – remains for the New Year. There is an introductory scripture, a prayer—if your faith allows it—and a song. Then the wakes begin. The difference is that the person you are praising is sitting right in front of you, very alive, smiling proudly at the speaker, rather than lying cold and unsuspecting in a coffin.

The only tears are tears of gratitude and joy. After their comments, each speaker presents the birthday man with a beautiful bouquet or one rose. When all comments are made, the laureate makes comments. Either dinner or a reception with a photographer capturing the fun will follow.

So, that’s it. Let’s start our New Year in a new way. Flowers BEFORE death. Not “a blanket full of roses when I die.”

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