The great American play Death of a Salesman, Linda says of her husband, “I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” Willie had spent his life chasing the American Dream and it all ended in a sad state. He died alone with no one but his family by his side. No one came and no one really seemed to care. This play written by Arthur Miller was a statement about the American Dream and how it is not what it is cracked up to be. More than that, this play is a reminder that there are things in life that are of far greater importance than money, status and power. Willie Loman spends most of his life believing that all of his extra efforts are advancing his image in the world. It turns out not to be so.
There is a great lesson in this indeed. On this first Sunday in Lent when we focus on not allowing temptation to take over our lives, this play seems most appropriate. You see we all live with the ultimate temptation that we can be more loved, more liked, more appreciated by people if we just do “it” better. We in fact will do things that we might not normally do in order to win the favour of people and in order to “move up.” Death of a Salesman reminds us that all of that approval that we seek means very little in the end. What really matters is how we live our lives and who we live them for. Can we say that we are doing all that we can to love God and love our neighbour? It would be fair for me to say that this Lent I can focus more energy on doing what God wants from me and not what I think others want me to do.
Death of a Salesman debuted on February 10, 1949. It became very successful and ran for over 700 shows. Arthur Miller became a household name. In what can only be seen as a great irony, Arthur Miller died on this same day three years ago in 2005. It seemed eerie that he would die on the day that the play that made him famous debuted 56 years earlier. Unlike his “Willie Loman,” Miller’s death was mourned by many and most saw it as the death of one of the last great American playwrights. In the arts we have the ability to learn more about how we might live and who we might want to be. This is an important day for those who have been impacted by Arthur Miller. It is also an important day for those who take seriously the Lenten call to work harder to live better, understanding that we are loved by God and will be cared for, eve if we do not meet favour with “people” who seem important to us today.