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The Lennon legacy

It was in keeping with the attitudes of John Lennon for his widow to ask for silent prayers --of a funeral service. And, when all is said and done, it is in prayer that the answers must be found to the deeper questions raised by Lennon in his extraordinary lifetime -- and by the violence that felled him in the America where he chose to remain even at the expense of long legal battles.

Considering the tendencies of the mass media, which Lennon frankly knew how to orchestrate for his own causes, a funeral for the ex-Beatle superstar could well have been turned into a binge of idolatry. But Lennon was recently on record against idolizing the famous dead. He would not have wanted it for himself.

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Rather, we have a hunch, he would have preferred to believe what a young neighbor in New York said during a vigil in the street where Lennon was tragically shot down: "He inspired us to be positive." The same has been said in other words and in more prominent places on both sides of the Atlantic, as the best side of the Beatles coin is remembered, the side that shines anew as each succeeding generation discovers their remarkable range of music.

There was another side to the coin -- the dabblings in mysticism, the lapses into vulgarity, the marijuana charges like those against Lennon which were finally dropped as an obstacle against his staying in the United States. Talent in the popular arts need not be accompanied by such matters anymore than in the fine arts where the works of great names often have to survive dubious circumstances.

In Lennon's case, fame seemed to bring not only a healthy skepticism about celebrity status but a sense of responsibility to use fame for some purpose beyond more fame. He never appeared to forget what it was like to be from the working class even though he became a small corporate state in himself. He helped the needy. He exploited his celebrity status in behalf of peace, fuzzy though some of his notions may have been, as recalled now among the tributes from his native Britain. Like so many of his generation, he made the transition to responsible family life.

How to help people? How to prevent war? How to "give peace a chance," in that memorable Lennon phrase heard this week on every hand? How to escape the age of hype and find the values in home? These are some of the questions posed in Lennon's career to which the prayers asked for now can help to provide the practical answers.

And what of the questions posed by his murder? Some mourners abroad link it to America's reputation for violence, still a kind of frontier nation that has not caught up with those civilized countries in which handguns are not allowed to private citizens. They are echoed by some Americans; presumably, indeed, by that polled majority which regularly calls for tightened gun controls.

But the issue goes beyond gun control. The accused assailant of John Lennon is a gravely misguided individual placed under psychiatric observation -- not any kind of American surrogate tarnishing America with personal guilt. Yet he is part of a contemporary society, by no means limited to America, in which the killer stalking his prey is a relentless movie theme, for example, and in which violence remains widely accepted as a solution to human problems, whether in the final shootout of a TV cops-and-robbers show or on the world stage.

Here again the record of inadequate human solutions underscores the necessity of prayer for transforming the mental realm reflected in the scene around us.

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The prayers should not wait -- and for many they have not waited -- for the killing of the emblematic figure of an international generation. But if John Lennon does inspire such prayers now -- rather than the vengeful thoughts expressed by some fans which would have appalled him -- he will be continuing that "positive" influence felt by his neighbor.

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