A Birth and a Death
I have a birth and a death on my mind today, and the madness it reveals about who we are and what we value as a culture.
Kate Middleton will have her baby today if the frantic newspaper headlines are to be believed. The “royal baby watch” has been ongoing for a while now, with armies of reporters and tweeters and live bloggers standing at the ready to be the first to break the news to our greedy eyes and ears. The time has now come, apparently. The world waits in voracious expectancy. The long-awaited child draws near, and we can barely contain our excitement.
Last weekend, Cory Monteith died here in Vancouver. I confess that I didn’t even know who this person was when I heard the news, but I soon gathered that he was on a popular TV show and, more importantly, that the was from Canada (it’s been quite amusing to watch Alberta and British Columbia newspapers stumble over themselves in trying to claim this dead hero as their own… “Alberta-born Monteith”… “BC-raised Monteith”)! Again, the articles and tweets and blog posts pile up, all trying to outdo one another in eulogizing a young man gone too soon. We see stories of how Glee cast members are coping, how the new season will now need to delayed and the script modified, we read of a difficult upbringing, of persistent addiction struggles, etc. We see tear-stained vigils and tributes to what a wonderful human being he was. Our grief overflows.
So what’s so unique about this birth and this death? Well, nothing, really. Nothing whatsoever.
Babies are born every day to people around the world. Only they are born to ordinary people. People who aren’t part of a fading, obscenely wealthy, hopelessly irrelevant institution that exists largely as a historical relic and a reliable supply of entertainment for an already over-entertained people. They are born to people who have bills to pay and futures to plan. They are born to people who aren’t attractive or rich or “important” enough to catch the media’s eye. They are born to people who can’t rely on others to do the mundane work of raising their babies while they get on with the more important task of making sure that their beautiful bodies are (beautifully) presentable as soon as possible for the relentless post-baby media scrutiny that is coming. Ordinary babies are fine and all, but hardly worth our time.
In the same way, people die of drug overdoses every day around the world. Indeed, on the same day that Cory Monteith died in a downtown Vancouver hotel, I would guess that a few blocks over on Hastings Street any number of other people were coping with difficult upbringings and psychological trauma with heroin and alcohol just like Monteith did. Some of them probably died on that same day. But nobody bothered to eulogize them. They didn’t dance across our screens and make us laugh and cry and swoon, after all. They weren’t very pretty, they didn’t have nice teeth and hard bodies and more money than they knew what to do with. They were “ordinary” addicts not “rich and famous” addicts. And we all know that those kind of addicts don’t really matter.
The kinds of births and deaths that matter, in other words, are the births and deaths of beautiful people who entertain us. That’s pretty much our only criteria. It doesn’t matter if Kate Middleton has any kind of unique virtue or character. It doesn’t matter if Cory Monteith was admirable or praiseworthy in any way beyond his ability to bring us, well, Glee. It doesn’t matter if either one of these two lives were governed by a noble purpose or transcendent goal. It certainly doesn’t matter if either of them inspired us in any way to be better, truer human beings. They are young, they are pretty, and they keep us entertained. What else really matters?
Like I said, madness…
I am intentionally thinking of and praying for two other people today. Two people I have never met, two people who are nothing more than hypotheticals in my mind, two people who matter no less than the beautiful famous people. I am praying for the baby girl born in Dehli on the same day as our precious royal baby, the child who will face racism and economic injustice and gender inequality, whose life will be characterized by hardship and struggle from almost her first memory. I am praying for strength, courage, and wisdom for whatever she will face. I am also praying for the young man on East Hastings Street in Vancouver today who has been kicked around by life since the day of his birth, and will stumble into some alley or hole in the ground later this afternoon to inject enough toxic substances into his body to end his life. I grieve and lament the screwed up world that makes his story inevitable. And I pray that he will finally find peace.
I pray that God will be merciful in these anonymous beginnings and endings (and countless others), so far away from the media glare and the fleeting public interest. I am glad that the standards we use to determine the value of a human life are not—have never been—the standards of God.