Death, or the thought of death, has been on my mind as of late. Seriously, though, we’ve had two posts in just as many weeks on the demise of a cartoon character, and before that a CWC discussing funerals which was brought on by the passing of Gordon’s grandfather. There was also actor Paul Walker’s fatal car accident two weeks ago.
Which is why, in a way, the following status on Facebook yesterday didn’t really shock me:
In part it’s because the fact that people do die has kind of been on my mind, but also because the last time I heard anything about Nelson Mandela he was in the hospital for lung problems. Naturally I was concerned about him and probably even prayed for the guy, but honestly no more than I put in a good word with the Lord for the homeless Chinese woman I saw begging yesterday [I had no change to give her, before you jump to the conclusion that I’m a prayer-over-action kind of person].
There were many more statuses dedicates to this event, of course:
And it all just got me thinking: Why?
That’s reads terribly, I realize that, and also I want to state that I am all about Nelson Mandela. I have absolutely nothing but respect for the things he did for race relations in South Africa; he was a crusader for civil rights and he was a legitimately great man. That being said, not only did the news not surprise me, it only gave me a slight twinge of sadness.
That’s in part because of that last Facebook status, typo aside, hitting on a really important fact: Mandela was 95 when he passed away. Five years short of a century is a long life, and one well-lived even with 27 of those years spent in prison. At least a good part of my apparent dearth of sorrow lies in the fact that he likely wasn’t much longer for this Earth. In fact, I’m going to say the vast majority of my sentiments are rooted in that.
I don’t think we “lost” Nelson Mandela, because I think he was on his way out.
The other reason I’m citing for my callous regard towards all this is the way people have been choosing to respond to this event. Take a look at the following comments to the very first status I posted up above:
There’s my comment at the top, stating that the news was broken to me via a social networking site. Below it are three people who are clearly upset about all of this happening, but aren’t saying much of anything else. I don’t mean to criticize them, but what are they meaning to convey? Is there a “first come, first served” mentality when it comes to expressing one’s sorrow?
Over on reddit someone posted the image below to r/pics, with the “best” [decided by upvotes/replies] comments below it:
The last guy kind of says it all: “It’s pathetic what people will do for Internet points.” Not that this is what the people on Facebook are doing, but it all seems like we’re going about feeling sad but not saying a whole lot. An excerpt from The Onion’s short article on all of this says “Nelson Mandela’s death is the only one on record that people everywhere unanimously agree has left the world notably worse off.” We’re all in agreement, but to what end?
I think what I ultimately wanted out of all of this, between the abject [meaning in this case “unfortunate or miserable” and not “of the most contemptible kind”] sadness and attempts to rally the internet hivemind, is to see more people actually talking about all of the great things he did. To be upfront no, the passing of a nonagenarian does not particularly move me to grief, but the abolishment of Apartheid make me want to stand up and cheer.
On no level am I saying that people shouldn’t mourn, Mandela affected many lives directly and knowing that he’s gone should move many to tears. What I do want to support, however, is a discussion of his that goes beyond grief and into his legacy, what he lived for and what he left behind.