Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The death of a promise

"Heath Ledger found dead in New York City..."
And the world mourns.
What is it about this death, this actor's death that makes us all feel even the slightest, yet undeniable twinge of loss?
We hold the celebrity up like modern day gods while at the same time capturing them shopping, feeding parking meters, eating and we tag these celluloid infernos "They're just like us," humanizing them in a way that shames us all.
Why do we look?
Why does Britney Spears taking a trip to a gas station make more news than the Kenyan Marathon Runner killed in violent riots crumbling his country?
Amy Winehouse walks the streets of London in a bra, crying. A ghost treading halfway between life and death or rather a shadow of what she used to be.
Brad Renfro dies and we are saddened, but comforted by the idea that "you saw that coming," as so many people casually passed in circles of friends.
What is it about these people's pain that we crave to see plastered all over the country? Is it to pity or perhaps judge the self-destructive spiral we all have inherent in us?
Is it to anticipate loss?
Is it to connect or disconnect?
And then out of nowhere, someone with promise, someone who was not caught in their most vulnerable and conflicted moments...falls...and we are hit with an unmistakable punch in the gut.
The loss of our James Dean.
I did not know Heath Ledger. But his death feels as if maybe somewhere we had met in passing, shared a few intimate moments about life and then drifted on by, much like most of the acquaintances I've held in my life. Somewhere they leave an imprint though where it is can often be hard to locate.
Is it the death of a promise that hurts? The promise of youth and art and talent and beauty all succeeding and manifesting into characters that we all related to on same basic human level? The loss of connecting in an universal and yet very personal way?
Or is the reminder of our own fragile mortality?
Is it the reminder that the idea of happiness is just exactly that?
We can never imagine how unhappy some people must be.
We can never imagine how alone some people must feel.
Tragedy takes on a new meaning.
How does one keep their dignity in a society that profits off stripping those that we admire?
Define dignity.

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