In May 1897, the great American humorist, novelist and social critic Samuel Clemens — best known by his pen name, Mark Twain — was in London. It was one of the stops on a round-the-world speaking tour he’d embarked on in 1895. He hoped to use the fees from speaking engagements to pay off the considerable debts he owed in the United States, due to a series of unsuccessful investments and publishing ventures.While Twain was in London, someone started a rumor that he was gravely ill. It was followed by a rumor that he had died. According to a widely-repeated legend, one major American newspaper actually printed his obituary and, when Twain was told about this by a reporter, he quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Another common variation of the line uses the words “…have been greatly exaggerated.” Sometimes  the quip is given as “Reports of my death are grossly exaggerated.” In point of fact, all such commonly-heard versions using “greatly exaggerated” and “grossly exaggerated” are misquotes.

On May 31, 1897, Twain wrote down this response [to a reporter charged with investigating this story]:

“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Friends, I share this anecdote because, several weeks ago I received the, thankfully- inaccurate, news that a member of our congregation had died. It was the result of an unfortunate and inappropriate mis-communication from a local health-care facility and we were, fortunately, able to establish the truth but it took a day or two to do so.

This incident gives me another opportunity to encourage all of you to be certain that we have current and accurate contact information for you. Patient privacy laws restrict health care institutions from informing us if you enter a hospital or other care facility. It is up to you, or a designated loved-one or friend, to tell us where you are and that you are desirous of contact from me or from representatives of our congregation. It is a source of frustration and disappointment for me to learn, after the fact, that a member who might have appreciated contact with me was in a health care facility and I did not know.

May all of us enjoy health and contentment….but, should that ever change for you, I do want to know!

Reb Elias