“Incredibly Sad”

Putting things in perspective.

Arnold Palmer died yesterday. He was 87.

Palmer was one of golf’s greats. Although I don’t follow golf and certainly don’t know as much about his career as the folks that do, I do know that he was a real class act who could certainly teach today’s professional athletes a thing or two about behaving in public. You can find a tribute to him here and some more general information on Wikipedia.

One of the people I follow on Twitter posted the following tweet with a photo of a young Palmer:

Incredibly sad … Golf legend Arnold Palmer has died. The 62-time PGA Tour and 7-time major winner was 87. #RIP

It’s sad when any good person dies, but “incredibly sad” when an 87-year-old man dies of natural causes?

I’m not trying to sully the memory of Arnold Palmer. He led a full life, achieving many great goals and doing many good things. But he was 87 with a heart condition. His life came to a logical, inevitable conclusion.

Do you know who else died yesterday? José Fernández. He was 24, and just a few years into what would likely be an amazing career as a baseball pitcher. Indeed, he had already won the National League Year Rookie of the year and played in an All-Star Game. A Cuban immigrant who saved his mother’s life when she fell overboard using their fourth (successful) defection attempt, he died in a boating accident yesterday morning with virtually his whole life ahead of him.

Now that is incredibly sad.

Do you see the difference?

I’m not trying to say that Fernández’s life is more valuable than Palmer’s. I’m just saying that when a man dies of natural causes at an age generally considered to be beyond that of an average life span, it’s sad. But when a young man who hasn’t even reached the prime of his life dies in a tragic accident, it’s sadder.

You know this boy.

Do you want to take that a step further? Think about Alan Kurdi. Don’t know who that is? Sure you do. He was the three-year-old boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when his family fled Syria as refugees just a year ago. His lifeless body was photographed on the beach, lying face down, still wearing his little shorts and shoes. His family was trying to get to Canada so they could live in a safe, peaceful world. I’d share the photo here — you can find a copy on Wikipedia — but it’s too heartbreaking to see over and over in my blog. So I’ll share this one, provided by his aunt, to give you an idea of the smiling, happy child whose life was snuffed out by tragic circumstances.

Alan Kurdi’s death is incredibly sad.

And what about the thousands of civilians killed in terrorist attacks, wars, and “ethnic cleansing” (AKA genocide)? Thousands of people losing their lives long before completing their natural lives? Sometimes before they even reach adulthood? Isn’t that sadder than the natural death of an 87-year-old man?

I guess my Twitter friend’s tweet just got under my skin. I’m so tired of people expressing extreme sadness when a celebrity dies yet barely acknowledging the death of a “lesser” or unknown person. Or people.

Let’s put things into perspective. People die every day. Some die more tragically than others. Shouldn’t the level of our sadness be tied into the circumstances of their lives and deaths?

10 thoughts on ““Incredibly Sad”

  1. Spot on.
    Like you I have no faith but I appreciate our beautiful churches here, some 1,000 years old, and I help cut the grass around our local graveyard at weekends.
    My grass-cutting boss is about 82. He is ex-army 3 Para (think lean and still fit Special Forces) and he has three members of his family buried in this hillside plot. His first child, aged 4 months (was weak at birth), his son aged 12, who was electrocuted on the railway when his young friend urged him to touch the 25kv overhead power lines with a metal curtain rod they had found. The last burial is his wife. (Died recently)
    He could not enter this graveyard until she was buried here. Now he likes to spend his time there and for the first time he can start to make sense of his life. Her death, emotionally painful for him of course, followed some natural cycle.
    We make a special effort to get his three plots ‘just right’; Army style.

  2. A counterpoint: I’m sad that Arnold Palmer died. We all will die someday, and the older one gets, the higher the odds creep that tomorrow is the day. I’m not sad that a 24-year-old baseball player died – he took a risk by going boating after dark, just hours after his team played (game time was 7:10pm EDT, the Coast Guard found the accident scene around 3am). They had a scheduled Sunday game (that was cancelled). Who in their right mind thinks it’s wise to go joyboating with minimal moonlight between games like that? I suspect that had he not died but was significantly injured, his contract might be voided for undue risks. As I’ve said for years, the safest speed is 0, and I suspect most pilots would consider the safest altitude is 0′ AGL.

  3. In response to Pete.
    I disagree with your counterpoint. You are ignoring human potential and human psychology.
    Arnold Palmer had a full and successful career, he was very old, and died. I did not know him and his death seems wholly natural, given his age. I did not send a card of condolence to his family because it would be false, as there is no expectation that we feel personal loss every time a ‘famous person’ dies.
    I feel some sorrow for the family of the 24 year old you describe, above, because his potential as an adult was cut short. I do not know the man to whom you refer but when I was 24 I took silly risks, just as he did. I got away with it.
    I am a pilot (ppl not cpl, like Maria) but I have never met any pilot who thought that 0 mph and 0′ agl was the safe option. It sounds like perfect tedium, to me.

    Risks need to be calculated but their complete avoidance is only possible after we die.

What do you think?