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What Does the World Look Like Without Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek’s passing put my existential security in Jeopardy… here’s why.

Alex Trebek the host of Jeopardy wearing a suit.
Photo: NYT

We go about our busy lives, and it’s often not until a cultural icon passes away that we’re reminded no one is untouched by death. Though Alex Trebek was not a famous athlete or legendary singer, he was acclaimed in his own right. The news of his passing threw me into my own little existential crisis. Why? I’m not so sure. Perhaps it was the nostalgia for my childhood mixed with my fear of the future (adulting is intimidating!), or maybe doubt in my own existence on top of the uncertainty of my own significance.

The moment I stopped scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a tribute to Alex Trebek, memories reeled through my mind. I was seven years old again, at my grandparents’ house for our usual Friday Night sleepover. Sprawled on the couch in my pajamas with my Grandma and a bag of Cheez Doodles, our vice of choice, I played along with her and my grandpa competing in the first round of Jeopardy. Most of the time I never understood the Jeopardy questions, let alone contemplated their answers. But something about the show, specifically the man with all the answers, Alex Trebek, amused me and comforted; Always calm, always pleasant, always there, every weeknight at 7.

But this Monday, he won’t be there.

Impermanence. It’s scary. I’m here in this moment, but tomorrow or next Tuesday, I might not be. Alex Trebek had been on this television show, at the same time, on the same channel for all my life. But now that’s changed. Alex was diagnosed with cancer almost a year ago, and look how much has changed in one year. A year ago I could go to a party with my friends, hug people and laugh with people without hesitation. Today, I can’t imagine leaving the house without a mask.

It’s scary how fast life moves. One day you’re seven years old sleeping at your grandparent’s house without a care in the world except which Barbies you’re going to pack in your overnight bag. You blink and you’re twenty thinking about more than just homework and grades and that crush who doesn’t know you exist. You’re thinking about what your future will look like, who will be there...who won’t be.

Well, I donated my Barbies after the 5th grade (okay, 6th) and I don’t see my grandma everyday anymore. For awhile it’s been just Alex and me on weeknights. Whether I was doing homework or making dinner or crying over a boy, Alex was there. And now, it’s just me.

We cry, we laugh, we reflect, but time doesn’t stop, and we all eventually move on. Our existence is fleeting in the grand scheme of things. The sun rises and sets again and again. People still have work and binge Netflix series and sleep through their alarms. Life goes on, with or without us. The world just keeps turning as do the questions about our purpose and legacy.

I wonder what reminds people of me, if anything.

How do you think people will remember you?

Maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe what you remember about people, is what it felt like to know them. How their laugh took you away from reality and their smile felt like the sun on your back in early May. I remember how I felt when I would see Alex Trebek on the television, and I will continue to remember that feeling even after his passing. I hope people remember how they felt when they saw me or what they thought of me. I hope people smile when they remember my laugh. I hope people will look back and be happy that they knew me. Knowing someone, connecting with someone, enriches our lives. I suppose our ties to people, our strings, are what exceed our existence.

Alex Trebek was extraordinarily ordinary, which is what I think we all found so appealing about him. It just goes to show that you don’t need to be outrageous to be remembered; just being there for others, even those whose lives we might never know we touched, will always be enough.



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