How we Deal with Death is a Reflection of how we view Life

Slashdot has a story about a car accident involving a small group of people driving to Paris from the SANE 2004 conference. Richard Stallman, the leading open source advocate had been in the car but had been dropped off earlier. Unfortunately, a young man, Hans Bakker was killed, and the other two in the car seriously injured.

Much of the Slashdot thread is condolences to the family, but there is the usual Slashdot irreverence to events, the dark humor, and to anything that the readers consider ‘phony’. There is something merciless about being anonymous, but oddly, there’s something honest, too. Overall the thread touches, greatly, on how we respond to the deaths of others, especially those people who we don’t know, directly.

Dave Rogers had written a comment in one of my posts in response to another person who brought up the 3000 killed on 9/11 that I think fits this event in a way (I hope, Dave, you don’t mind the association) and is worth bringing to the front page. Excerpted from the entire comment is the following:

Everybody dies. I just read an article on CNN about flu vaccinations coming out next month for the upcoming flu season. The article mentions that about 36,000 Americans will die this year, as they do pretty much every year, from the flu. Where’s the multi-billion dollar effort in public health improvements to mitigate the loss of life from the flu? “Ah,� you say, “You poor deluded fool, those are natural deaths. Nothing we can do abut that. Regrettable and all that, but it’s not the same thing as terrorism!�

I grow tired of mentioning that about 45 thousand Americans will die in automobile accidents this year. About 16 thousand Americans will be murdered by other Americans this year. And about that same number of Americans will kill themselves. Somehow that all just seems to be part of the cost of doing business to everyone except the people who loved them.

Everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to choose how or when, except perhaps for those poor, desperate 16 thousand that take their own lives, but everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to live. Not when they choose to live their lives in fear.

But when 3 thousand Americans are killed in a terrorist act, which might otherwise be termed 21st century barbarian street theater, well, then we have to go and do something!

There’s no overstating the horror of 9/11. But there is the possibility, which has long since become the reality, of turning it into a fetish, an obsession, and an excuse.

Dying is easy. Living is hard. Everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to live. There’s a danger in paying so much attention to the deaths of a relative few, however horrifying, that we lose sight of what it means to live. There’s more to life than the fear of death. There’s more to living than trying to protect yourself by killing others; or endorsing and supporting the killing of others. Living in fear makes people do terrible things, and no one is immune to that – not “them,â€? not “us.â€? But living is hard. Living life in faith is harder still.

Dying is easy. Living is hard. Everybody gets to die. Not everbody gets to live.

I’ve been trying to write a post on how not choosing to die is not the same as choosing to live. It reflects much of what’s been going on in my life, and the lives of my family; it also touches on two young men, webloggers, who when faced with life and death, chose death. But I haven’t been able to finish the writing because I’m still waiting on the denouement.

Until then, ponder Dave’s very compelling words, and read the comments at Slashdot. If the discussion there has ‘degenerated’ into the usual quarrel as it always does with this site, there is still much food for thought.

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