Pastor"s walk spurs thoughts of living well - Life lessons as the 50th anniversary of actor James Dean"s death approaches

By Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos^ahOn Religion

Walking is good for your health, and I believe that strolling through cemeteries helps one maintain a healthy perspective on life. Headstones can be a most effective means of calibrating one's attitude about what's really important this side of the grave.

While on a speaking engagement in central Indiana recently, I made an intentional detour off Interstate 69 to get to the little town of Fairmount. That's where Jim Davis, the creator of the Garfield comic strip, grew up. It is better known, however, as the hometown of Hollywood legend James Dean. Fairmount is where the perpetual 24- year-old is buried. He was born Feb. 8, 1931, and died Sept. 30, 1955. That's right. This month marks the 50th anniversary of his death. Had he lived, he would now be 74 years old.

Since I was only 3 years old when this '50s heartthrob died, I have not been overly preoccupied with his life. But after watching a television documentary on James Dean, I'd become intrigued with his cult-like following. Since I was traveling so close to where he grew up and was buried, I decided to take some time and check out Fairmount. I wanted to walk around the sleepy Midwest town and soak in some of the ambiance that contributed to the life of the person that millions still praise five decades after his death.

A grocery checkout clerk gave me directions to the home of one of Dean's high school friends. When I stated the purpose of my spontaneous visit, Bob Pulley invited me into his farmhouse on the edge of town.

Bob had a lot of memories of Dean. He pulled out his 1949 high school yearbook and showed me photographs of the two of them in a school play and on the track team. He smiled as he recounted their senior trip to Washington, D.C. For Bob, it was as if it were only a few years ago.

I asked him about his last visit with his famous friend. Dean had returned home for a photo shoot a few months before his untimely death. According to Bob, he was still the same old ``Jimmy.'' He told me about the funeral. He had been one of the pallbearers.

I drove to the Fairmount cemetery and stood in front of Dean's grave. Fresh flowers graced his final resting place. Photographs and cigarettes were strewn at the foot of his headstone. Fans had left them there to commemorate the late actor's birthday.

As I stared at the grave marker, I was impressed by its simplicity. James B. Dean 1931 - 1955. How quickly his life was over. I looked to the left of his grave to see his father and stepmother's marker. I looked to the right to see the marker of the uncle and aunt who raised him after his mother died when he was only 9.

Although the names and dates were different, each gravestone had something in common: between the birth date and death date, each had a small dash.

The dash represents a person's life, with all the happiness and heartache that come our way. It stands for the failures and successes we achieve. It stands for what we do with the opportunities God gives us.

The fact that it is a dash is most appropriate. Whether we live 24 years or 94, our lives speed by like the time it takes to run a 100-yard dash.

Next time you take a walk through your local cemetery, look at the names. Look at the dates. Consider the dashes.

As you do, think about this: We can't control the date we're born. We can't control the date we die. But we can decide what we will do with our dash. To that end, determine to make the most of your dash as you re-evaluate your purpose in the world. Don't take it for granted. Resist the temptation to run away from the reality of what's to come. Don't be a rebel without a cause.

Consider what a first-century Christian leader in the Roman Empire wrote, ``Live life then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life, but as those who do. Make the best use of your time?'' (Ephesians 5:15)

The Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos may be reached at Mercer Island Covenant Church at 232-1015, ext. 104. His e-mail address is

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