Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Good Grief

Last Thursday night, a 32-year-old man leapt to his death in full view of the concert audience at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, an affluent suburb south of San Francisco.

I'm sure concertgoers in the ampitheater were shocked and horrified to be witnessing a violent death during what should have been a pleasant summer evening of musical entertainment -- the man's body plummeted to the stage inches from where Irish musician Glen Hansard, of a band called Swell Season, was performing. But this morning KFOG radio reported that the concert venue had deployed grief counselors to work with ticket holders who'd witnessed the tragedy.

A few years ago, an unfortunate accident claimed the life of a young coworker at about the same time a couple of other unrelated deaths occurred within my company, triggering a team of grief counselors to descend on our corporate campus to initiate rounds of group therapy sessions. In the one I attended, a young designer -- oddly, he was 32, the same age as last week's suicide -- struggled to express his feelings to the therapist. "All this death lately, it just makes me feel like nothing's safe," he said. "It makes me feel like the universe is just this random chaos where anything can happen." Gee, you think? 

It speaks volumes about the protective bubble most Americans reside within, where occasional exposure to life's grim realities necessitates a flurry of soothing therapies and navel gazing. There are places on this planet where toddlers are rounded up like cattle so their arms can be hacked off with machetes, where bombs go off daily in crowded marketplaces killing babies and old women, where women and girls are gang raped for being of the caste or tribe not currently in power. On last night's news there was a report of an attack on a hotel in Mumbai where dozens of people were murdered by a mob, including, inexplicably, the hotel's shoe shine boy.

Maybe it's because I helplessly watched so many friends in the bloom of youth die horribly protracted, pointless deaths during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that death can come at any time, with no rhyme or reason. Isn't that what life is all about, really? To have a bunch of spoiled Americans whining that a simple reality the rest of the world copes with on a moment-to-moment basis makes them feel threatened and afraid strikes me as the height of arrogance and self-indulgence. I'd even go so far as to say that if we approached death a bit more realistically we'd enact social reforms to ensure the care and comfort of our elderly, and perhaps be less likely to inflict death so cavalierly on the far-flung people of our world.


  1. Hello, once again, Dan!
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