all of the selves we Have ever been
In a year in which we have felt that everything we hold dear is in jeopardy, a final blow—we lost the man with all of the answers.
Jeopardy! has been on the air since 1964 beginning as a daytime television show, but those first twenty years were just a warm-up for the real headliner, Alex Trebek, who stepped onto the set in 1984.
Folks like Khloe Kardashian, Mark Zuckerberg, LeBron James, Mandy Moore, and Lindsey Vonn who were born in 1984 spent their entire lives with Alex Trebek. He was Jeopardy! Several generations have grown up or grown old with him in their living rooms each evening.
Jeopardy! is the game that brought us all together. It was a TV trivial pursuit, but it didn’t feel trivial. We played along with those Jeopardy! contestants feeling scholarly and wise. Young and old, we shouted out answers. I knew my children were grown up when they became the ones with the correct responses.
Unlike so many other contests in life, there were no losers on Jeopardy! It was an honor to play the game. To be chosen as a contestant elevated a person to the category of intellectual. For those of us playing from home, a single correct response gave us hope, elevating our own self-esteem.
For those thirty minutes each evening, we experienced the power of engaged minds. There was nothing else in the universe. No worrying. No arguing. No ruminating. We played the game. This week, I have come to an aching acceptance of an empty chair in my living room. The game will go on, but there will always be someone missing. There will be dinner each evening, but no dessert.
There was the game, and then there was Alex Trebek. He was handsome and recognizable at age 50 and still at age 80. Alex was a star in his own right, but not tabloid fodder. He was low key and projected a world that was better than we thought it could be. The most shocking thing he ever did was shave his mustache. He was not one to be outrageous for the purpose of seeking attention, but he was known for his sharp wit—even his humor was intelligent. He was a good sport and made an occasional appearance on Saturday Night Live and once traded places with Wheel of Fortune Host Pat Sajak as an April Fools Day joke.
His gentle life was a lesson though he did not preach. We felt the lesson just as much as we could see it. He emanated decency and old-fashioned manners. Alex Trebek was smart, articulate, steady, graceful, and gracious. His presence was comforting and reassuring. A stickler for the rules, he was not a judge. If the clue was “Salt of the earth,” the correct response would be: “Who is Alex Trebek.”
In spite of the popular advice to “find your passion,” we saw a man who had found his niche. He seemed to understand that life’s answers often come in the form of a question. Equipped with knowledge, a person can ask the right questions. As Jeopardy’s Executive Producer Mike Richards recently stated, Alex Trebek “made being smart cool.”
A Holocaust survivor once told me that he looked forward to heaven because “that’s where all the answers will be.” I smile now as I recall those words that this week became a prophecy. Heaven is where all the answers will be. Alex Trebek will be our host.
“I’ll take ‘Enlightenment’ for a $1,000, Alex.”