Central Idea: The key to becoming a saint is to recognize the grace of God in every moment, in every struggle, in every sandwich.
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
“So, since you were diagnosed with cancer, what have you learned about life and death?”
“Simple, enjoy every sandwich.”
Believe it or not it has been seventeen years since the passing of Warren Zevon. Now if that name does not sound familiar, it only means that I am ancient. Zevon’s most famous song is the Werewolves of London, a very bizarre song indeed. You know it: I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s, his hair was perfect.
Zevon was one of those people that never made it to superstardom and apparently that was OK by him. He had his fans. He made his music. He had a career. He didn’t need adulation. He didn’t need superstardom. He didn’t need legions of fans.
And, it seems, he didn’t need doctors. Zevon had a bit of a phobia about doctors and that fear may have cost him his life. He developed a rasping cough and began feeling dizzy. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, the type that comes from asbestos. His time was limited.
His last public appearance was on October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness. Zevon was a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” He took time to thank Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”. For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.” By the next September, Warren Zevon would be dead.
It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.”
I am not suggesting that Warren Zevon is a saint. But his admonition to “Enjoy every Sandwich” might just be the very essence of what sanctity is. Let me explain.
Sanctity finds the grace of God anywhere and everywhere. The saints discover the love of God so powerfully and so intensely, in moments of ecstasy and joy, in moments of difficulty and struggle. But what sets them apart is that they discover that grace even in moments of the ordinary, even in times of drudgery. They are people, as Zevon remarked, who enjoy every sandwich, whether simple and the elaborate, peanut butter and jelly, submarine, cucumber or barbecue. Whether you are eating by yourself or at a huge party.
And when you do just that, when you truly and really enjoy every sandwich, your basic approach to life becomes one of profound gratitude and deep vision. The saints teach us that each moment, each encounter, even if it is perceived as negative or painful, can open us up to the amazing, invigorating life of God. The saints enjoy every sandwich.
One of the last songs that Warren Zevon wrote is a touching song called Keep Me in Your Heart. It expresses the longing of someone who recognizes that our time on earth is both limited fleeting, yet, paradoxically, amazingly boundless and infinite. They are words with which we remember all who have died this past year.
Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for awhile
Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you
Saints see with that intensity. They see with that deep rich vision.
They savor every bite.