You see, each evening, we ate supper together around the table. (Yes, once upon a time, families did this most every night!) As we did, the four of us welcomed Walter Cronkite, the lead anchor for CBS Nightly News, into our midst. He faithfully joined us via the television set that my dad had playing over in the corner of the room, in order that he could catch up on the news of the day.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Cronkite was repeatedly voted the most trustworthy man in America. His thirty minute nightly broadcast always concluded with the classic phrase “And that’s the way it is”, followed by his giving the day of the week and the date, before finishing with his salutary “This is Walter Cronkite, CBS News. Good night.” And each evening, when he told us that was the way it was, we believed him.
We were not alone. Cronkite dominated the news for nearly two decades before retiring in 1981. Of course, the broadcast networks’ domination of the news soon followed, as channels devoted entirely to 24 hour newscasts began to arise on cable systems. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the like are all standard fare today. But they were novel in the 1980s. In the years to come, I would find myself looking back longingly for the days when Cronkite told us the news without an angle or bias. My suspicion is that I am not the only one who feels this way at times. But I digress…
It was about this time that my young wife and I, newly married, moved off to seminary and set up house-keeping in a little one bedroom apartment some four miles off campus. Barely of age, we found ourselves a thousand miles from home and family. But we persevered; and little by little, we made a home for ourselves.
It was about this time that we too welcomed a nightly guest into our home. The year was 1984; and his name was Alex Trebek, the host of the new nighttime version of the television trivia game show, Jeopardy!.
Little did we know that Alex would come to spend most every weekday evening with us for the next three and a half decades! And now, he too has signed off for the last time. Tens of millions of people the world over join my wife and I tonight as we mourn the passing of this wonderful man.
Trebek, of course, passed away peacefully earlier today, surrounded by his family, after a long and difficult struggle with pancreatic cancer. And even though I personally never met the man, I nonetheless feel as though I have lost a life-long friend! Once again, I am very likely not alone here.
Our nights will now be different without him. But his presence will still be felt still far into the future. Not just because of decades of reruns that will surely now be broadcast; but because of the fun and entertaining way he helped us to learn about our world, broadening our horizons and perspectives on life in the process. Indeed, he was, as one journalist called him, a “pleasant distraction” from the cares of the world.
And maybe that was why I valued him so! As a child, I was largely oblivious to the greater realities of this world. Coming of age, men like Walter Cronkite taught me that, as unpleasant as it may be, part of my growing up was my having to recognize and address these issues and concerns.
Later, as an adult continually awash in such matters, Alex Trebek reminded me of the value of laying them aside periodically, in favor of some leisurely activity that allowed the mind to be refreshed, even as it was fed and nourished. Brief as it was, my nightly half-hours spent with Mr. Trebek and company watching Jeopardy! helped me to do just that!
In this regard, if for no other reason, I am in debt to both Walter Cronkite and Alex Trebek. Both gave me some important lessons to live by, as he former urged me to grow up and embrace responsibility, while the latter reminded me to be careful as I did, because all work and no play could easily make me a dull boy!
At this point in my life, I hope I have learned these lessons. I also hope that I have modeled them for others – for my children, my grandchildren, and the many individuals with whom I have been privileged to cross paths in life.
After all, both principles are quite Biblical; for the same Lord Who moved the Apostle Paul to remind us of the importance of embracing responsibility with words like “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” also reminded us of the importance of stepping aside on occasion and resting up in the midst of that responsibility. (See Scriptures below.)
More than just preach these things, this same Lord also practiced them. For no Son ever grew up and accepted and shouldered responsibility as significantly as did He. Nor did anyone ever find as much satisfaction as He later rested from the fulfillment of His earthly responsibilities!
You and I honor men like Cronkite and Trebek whenever we acknowledge our debt to them for the little lessons of life they taught us. Better yet, we glorify Jesus Christ when we acknowledge our debt to Him, and then heed His admonitions and follow His example!
SCRIPTURE SOURCES: https://www.biblehub.com/1_corinthians/13-11.htm; https://biblehub.com/mark/6-31.htm; and https://biblehub.com/mark/6-32.htm.
NOTE: It was only after I had penned (but before I had posted) this blog that I came across the following quote in an article on Vanity Fair Magazine’s website:
“Ken Jennings, who in 2004 won 74 Jeopardy! games in a row, the longest winning streak in game show history, compared Trebek to news anchor Walter Cronkite in a 2019 tweet, calling him an ‘authoritative, reassuring TV voice you hear every night, almost to the point of ritual.’ Reader’s Digest ranked Trebek among the top 10 most trusted people in America (he was No. 8).”
Yet again, it seems, I am not alone in my thinking!