I’m not sure there’s anything especially theological about the last David Letterman show, but I have thoughts. I remember when Johnny said good-bye to America in 1992. Bette Midler sang a lovely tribute. Johnny linked me to my father, because he would often watch the Tonight Show, and on Friday nights when I was a boy, I would stay up with him and watch. We would fix Chef Boyrdee pizza from a box and watch Johnny. Johnny was so urbane. And smart. A Nebraska kid, to be sure, but he was New York too, and after he moved to California he portrayed the Hollywood / Malibu vibe perfectly. Tan. Relaxed. He was California.
Dave, on the other hand, did his show in New York City. Yet through and through he was a Hoosier. A little goofy. A little self-effacing. A little uncomfortable in his own skin. Yes, he really did attend Ball State University. Next to Jane Pauley and John Wooden, well, he may be the most famous Hoosier ever. When he made fun of people, he was never mean about it. Pointed at times, yes, but never mean.
I look at Johnny’s good-bye, and Dave’s too, and it represents, not merely the end of of a show, but the closing of a chapter. Mad Men? Okay, it’s fine. But it’s not Dave. Dave’s retirement is a reminder of one of the big ontological / existential issues plaguing every human being who has ever walked the earth, namely, that it ends. It ends too soon. It ends too late. But it ends. In the midst of endings we are reminded of the transitory nature of life.
Which of of course brings us to the heart of religion, because religion is about making sense of two stubborn facts: We are here and it’s going to end. But let’s face it, that religious question can rattle your brain and feel like a riddle wrapped in a conundrum. This doesn’t mean we give up on the religious quest. No. Never.
But it’s a reminder that, in addition to faith and philosophy and spiritual exploration, we still need things like, well, things like Stupid Pet Tricks and Camping with Barry White and Top Ten Lists and Larry Bud Melman. Thank you, Dave. I liked you. I’ll miss you. And only now do I realize that I actually needed you too.