Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Death is Fairly Serious

Not infrequently in this column, I find myself in the frustrating position of needing to explain and even make a case for an idea that, until very recently, was a given. As our society seemingly develops multiple cases of acute amnesia, wandering, utterly lost, far from the most sensible and established paths, I find I’m sometimes dedicating this weekly space to what were once common, undisputed bits of knowledge and universally accepted truisms that would have been silly to even mention because of how obvious they were. (See “How Doors Work,” “How to Wait for Luggage.”) Still, in an age in which a sitting U.S. president makes a point of mentioning that islands are surrounded by water, which is wet, who am I to assume which things are obvious and which may require patient re-explanation?

For some time now, we have been undergoing slow, creeping mutations of some of our most fundamental concepts, including even the idea that some things are true and some are not. (See “The Fact Is”). And so, this week—incredulously—I find myself typing these words: Death is fairly serious, in that it marks the end of one’s time on earth. Death is also noteworthy. When it occurs, those who remain are justified in experiencing grief. When it occurs violently, unexpectedly, or to a young person, it is even sadder. So there you have it. Death is bad. Pass it on.

What specifically, you may well wonder, compels the Curmudgeon to dedicate an entire column to this gratingly obvious point? Well, as insane as this may sound, it seems our collective worldview has started to trivialize death—a human experience that used to be held with the deepest solemnity.

I was made more keenly aware of this erosion the day I was informed by some helpful person on social media that the illegal immigrants who died while in custody at the border had only themselves to blame. Interestingly, this alleged culpability did nothing to render their deaths acceptable. Even when death is the fault of the deceased, as in suicide or drug abuse, normal people who haven’t lost their souls still mourn and think of it as not so good.

In another conversation, this one on the politics of guns, a staunch second amendment enthusiast explained to me the pointlessness (in his opinion) of banning assault rifles thusly: “They’re only responsible for a small percentage of deaths.” And I suppose if you’re a statistician, that’s fascinating. It might make one inclined to turn one’s attention elsewhere in addressing the issue of gun violence. But if you’re a friend or relative of one of the “small percentage” of people killed by an assault rifle, the data may do little to dissuade you from believing that things might have been better without these weapons. That is to say, even a small percentage of death is still bad.

Today, with current coronavirus death counts as high as 150,000 in the U.S., it’s easy to forget (if you’re an odious heathen) that that number is made up of individual souls, people with interests and pet peeves and private jokes and bank accounts and friends and favorite foods, people with personal quirks and allergies and TV viewing habits and weird opinions . . . people who hadn’t figured on their lives ending this soon. So when New York recently marked victoriously its first day without a death from the virus, it struck your Curmudgeon as rather a pathetic thing to celebrate.

And when I see people gleefully and laughingly reporting the deaths from COVID-19 of those who were skeptical about the disease . . . well . . . I’m quite sure we’re digging our way to hell.

As always, I’m only here to help. So here we are.

Death is fairly serious. It makes it impossible to do most of the things we enjoy during life. That means no more Facebook, Shake Shack, episodes of "The Bachelor," or Nintendo, no more vacations, chocolate, book clubs, or movies. Death is sad. It puts a real crimp in your plans. It renders moot your life goals and even your to-do list. Except in very rare cases (see "resurrection"), death is permanent and cannot be undone. And damn it, we are supposed to feel something when someone dies. We’re supposed to speak of it reverently and with regret. We are supposed to have sympathy for the aggrieved survivors, whether they are comrades or adversaries. And if we don’t have sympathy, we’re supposed to at least show it, out of respect. We’re certainly not to treat death cavalierly. I hope that clears things up.

Next week, I will argue that the sun is hot, food is a necessity, laughing is good, and a punch in the nose is painful. Don't lose your souls, people.