Over the weekend a 40 year old actor, Paul Walker, the star of the popular movie “The Fast and the Furious” died in a tragic car accident. Personally, I was not familiar with this actor or his work, but the news of his passing was all over social media. He was on his way to attend a charity event when the crash happened, and both of the men in the car were pronounced dead on the scene. From all accounts, he was a respected man, talented actor, and was very involved in charity work. Messages of support for his family and friends started pouring in on Facebook and Twitter. People seemed shocked and dismayed to learn of his passing.
And almost as quickly as the messages of support began, another conversation started to emerge on social media sites. One that always seems to take place when a celebrity passes and fans express condolences. It seemed that some people were upset by all of the attention that an actor’s passing was receiving, in light of the many service men and women who lay down their lives in defense of our country… and barely get a mention in a local newspaper.
I say that people were upset, but that truly is an understatement. There were some who were downright angry and starting social media battles with their friends who expressed sadness over Mr. Walker’s death. There was a lot of hatred being spewed from people who thought that it was disrespectful to show condolence “just because” he was a famous actor. Many of us probably saw similar posts… “You wouldn’t care about him if he weren’t an actor”, or “how about a RIP for the soldier that lost their life over the weekend”.
If you know me personally, or have been following what I write here on this page, you know I am a fierce supporter of our troops. I absolutely believe they deserve more recognition and thanks than we will ever be able to provide. Even though I have met my share of celebrities I am not often star-struck by them. They are regular folks. I do get overwhelmed with emotion and am humbled when I meet members of our military. They are the true celebrities in my mind. So I understand the sentiment that we should be recognizing the deaths of our service men and women. I agree.
But I do not understand why, in the face of one tragic death, anyone would try to compare it to the death of anyone else. I do not understand why anyone would be upset over the choice of one human being to be saddened by the death of another. I do not understand why anyone feels they have the right to tell another person who they should and should not mourn.
To be honest, the entire conversation made me really angry.
First of all, while Paul Walker’s death may not have mattered to me personally, it mattered to someone. He left behind a 15 year old daughter. He had family. He had friends. His acting entertained millions of people. The people who loved him or admired his work shouldn’t have to feel like their grief is any less important than that of a person who lost a loved one to war. What gives anyone the right to tell another person how they should feel?
Secondly, anytime someone in the prime of their life dies unexpectedly and it is national news, it gives us all pause. I am just one year younger than Paul. That is sobering. We are reminded that life is short and should not be taken for granted. Does it really matter that this young man was a celebrity if it gives us all a reason to count our blessings or hug our kids a little tighter?
But the thing that made me really angry is this false sense of purpose an event like this seems to bring out in some people. Yes, social media can be used to affect change. But I think it has also made us a bit lazy in the change department. Having a heated debate about whose death is more important, an actor or a soldier, is not going to affect change. It is not going to raise awareness. How is getting fired up simply because an actor died really supporting our troops? How is negating the grief of anyone else making it easier for a wounded or disabled vet? This story will be out of the headlines soon, and so will the discussion. Getting on a soap box about how our military men and women deserve to be recognized just as much as a Hollywood actor…isn’t going to make that happen. The reality is that won’t ever happen… and I know many will be upset when I say this… but that is as it should be.
The men and women who have stepped up to the plate to serve our country may have a variety of reasons for signing on the dotted line… but one thing is for certain, they did not do it for fortune and fame. They didn’t do it because it is glamorous. Whatever the reason they signed up, I will forever be grateful to them for their service and sacrifice. I will never feel like I can give enough support and thanks for what they do.
In a perfect world, we would be able to pay all of them what they are worth. We would have a parade in their honor every single day. We would be able to lavish them with gifts. We could have a national recognition of every single one who made the ultimate sacrifice. We would all stop what we are doing to remember each and every one. And that would make us, the ones they are fighting for, feel better. I don’t know if it would be what our heroes need or want though, I can’t speak for them. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many of them would not be thrilled with those displays of gratitude. I have a feeling that a soldier who gave his/her life for their country would not be shaking their head in agreement when a Facebook debate suggests that their death should be more important that the death of anyone else. Famous celebrity or not.
We are all going to die someday. And when we die, our passing will matter to someone. The human condition will not allow us to mourn every single human being that passes from this earth. The harsh reality is that we have lost thousands of men and women over the past 12 years to war. It is tragic. We are eternally grateful for their service and sacrifice. But we cannot mourn them all. We can continue to support them through tangible actions and deeds. We can continue to make sure our children know that they are heroes. And we can continue to treat our fellow human beings with respect by allowing them to feel for or grieve whomever they choose.