Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Vicarious living

One of the New Yorker cartoons posted on the bulletin board in my den shows an old man on his death bed surrounded by members of his family and a clergyman. He says to them, "I always lived vicariously. Why can't I die vicariously?"

If this family happens to be British, it is possible that the clergyman might be a vicar, which would be appropriate because we get the word vicarious from the word vicar. Vicarious, as the word is used by the man in the cartoon, means "experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another," according to Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary. The word also means "serving instead of someone or something else."

Historically in the Church of England, a vicar was a stand-in or substitute for a rector. Vicars usually did much the same thing rectors did, but they were compensated much less. Country churches often got vicars instead of rectors. Most churches in the United States have other terms for what, to be blunt, may be considered second-class clergy. We may call them associate pastors, assistant pastors, supply pastors or interim pastors.

Whenever we read a novel or watch a movie, we are, to some extent, living vicariously. Watch something on the Travel channel and you are traveling vicariously. Watch a program on the Food Network and you are cooking and, perhaps, eating vicariously. See a romantic movie and you are having an affair vicariously. No matter how much we may live vicariously, however, we still have our own lives to live, as dull as they may be in comparison. We still must eat, sleep, work and, yes, die on our own.

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