Monday, June 23, 2008

Tim Russert & The Ineptitude of Death

Reading an AP story yesterday about reactions of ordinary fiftysomething men to the death of newsman Tim Russert reminded me of our denial of death. It was as if the wings of mortality had grazed the tops of their heads, as they so often do in these cases. The cruelty of the Grim Reaper's apparently arbitary choices for harvest is eased only a bit by platitudes like, "God picks his most beautiful flowers first."
Leo Tolstoy wrote a novella titled The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Bantam Classics) which informed my earliest thinking about death and continues to do so. In it, he deftly describes the sort of magical thinking in which we might wallow: "In addition to the speculation aroused in each man's mind about the transfers and likely job changes this death might occasion, the very fact of the death of a close acquaintance evoked in them all the usual feeling of relief that it was someone else, not they, who had died." Later he wrote, "'Ivan Ilyich has really bungled--not the sort of thing you and I would do.'"
Death as a symbol of weakness feeds our delusion of immortality. We certainly wouldn't be inept enough to die, would we?
Rest in peace, Mr. Russert.
ps. The beautiful "Lonely Tree" photo is courtesy of Tomasz Turczynski, an up and coming photographer in Poland.
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