“Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.”
I hate it when celebrities die.
I don’t hate it because I’m reminded of the mortal coil and our steady but relentless progression down it, or because the celebrity was a particularly meaningful person in my life. I hate it because of all the things people say in response to it.
Right now I’m seeing the occasional message remembering Whitney Houston. Most of the time, I’m seeing comment about how a famous wailing junkie doesn’t deserve all the attention because she finally dropped off the perch.
Don’t even get me started on my whole ‘respect for the dead’ spiel, because it wouldn’t end. I cannot stand people’s need to defame and slander another person’s name when they deserve forgiveness for their past mistakes. Death is a punishment in some countries. It’s often considered the most severe, and certainly the most final of all sentences. Should the dead not be given a moments peace removed from their minor misdeeds and drama?
That is not what this post is about.
This post is about the comments about the soldiers. About little-known scientists who created something great. About the starving children in Africa. About the saints and the sinners and the people in between.
No, I’m not saying they deserve more attention than Whitney. That’s what this post is about.
Everywhere, all over the world, people are dying.
People are dying of disease, of famine, of addiction, of heartbreak. People are dying in wars and rebellions. People are dying slowly at the age of ninety-four. People are dying quickly at the age of two hours. Many people are taking their own life, or having it taken by another. There is not a place in the world where death is not happening.
Every single one of those people is a person of importance. You may not have heard about them, you may not feel emotional attachment to them, you may not even have liked them if you knew them. That doesn’t make then unimportant. The soldier dying in the midst of a short, sudden battle is no more important than the little old man dying alone in his bed in his spartan apartment. The children freezing in the streets are no less important than the great leaders who are dealing with their fatal but slowly progressing disease.
Can you even comprehend the numbers? Billions of people ceasing to live. Billions.
Every single one of them deserves to be acknowledged and remembered. Every single one of them had a life and a story. They may not have been good people. They may not have been strong people. They may have had addictions and vices and anger issues and a tendency to leave the toilet seat up. Some of them would have beaten their children. Some of them didn’t even have children. A great many of them died trying to care for their children. Many more of them died thinking about their children, or lack thereof. They may have died with regrets, or with great pride in what they had done.
Can you imagine the stories they could have told you?
Can you grasp the adventures they may have had?
Do you know who they were, what they feared, who they loved, where their passions rested?
Did you know Whitney Houston, beyond her image on a screen or on a stage?
Did you know every one of the soldiers who fell and never got back up?
Do you know the names of every individual child suffering deadly malnutrition and hunger pains?
Perhaps that is why you cannot mourn for them all at once, and that is okay.
We as human beings are actually incapable of seriously understanding anything on that scale. We can quantify it, we can describe it, we can count and manage and organise it, but we cannot comprehend it.
The best we can do is understand what is near and dear to us. Mourn the dead celebrities. Respect the fallen defenders of freedom and justice. Do what you can to ensure that this year, the numbers of the dead on the streets is significantly lower. Feed the world, y’know?
Death is an excellent equaliser.
Just don’t run around saying that one death is more important than another. Don’t demand more attention for one person like the other doesn’t deserve it because of their failures in life. Everyone has done something in their life that other people wouldn’t approve of. That’s not the point.
You cannot mourn every loss in this world. Mourn your own losses, allow the people around you to mourn theirs, and never, ever tell another person that their loss is less important than yours.
Show respect for the dead. All of the dead. Even the ones you didn’t know.