Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Is, And What Should Never Be

To the right of these words are four people. Susie Wheldon. Oliver Wheldon. Sebastian Wheldon. And Dan Wheldon. You've probably, by now, heard about the last one.

I'm about to get in trouble with people I don't know, folks. It's the end of a long day, the Jets and Dolphins played a game that was instantly forgettable, the NBA no longer exists, I've said all I can say about the Eagles for now, and the Series pick has already been made, and has not started.

I'm alone in a hotel room at the start of a business trip, with my time clock all kinds of wrong. I'm missing my family and hurting in various places, and I don't have anything listy or fun to write about. And yet, the bloghole calls.

A smarter man closes the computer right now, ducks the bullet, and lives to post another day without the inevitable howls of outrage that will accompany this message. A wiser blogger just accepts the fact that some things don't need to be said, especially so close to the event.

A better man says nothing about a sport he knows next to nothing about, because he stopped watching it in the freaking 1970s, when ABC tape-delayed it and made it seem like a big damned deal, and he bought it as his very own, while the rest of the family shrugged and went about their day.

But that's just not, as longtime readers will attest, how I'm wired. So.

Dan Wheldon, in case you somehow missed this by now, is the Indy race car driver and, it seems, universally acclaimed Brit who died in a horrific crash scene on Sunday.

Now, the following caveats that aren't going to be read or remembered later: I do not doubt that he was a great guy. The video clips on the news reports speak to that, as does the raw emotions pouring out of his friends and competitors.

I also don't doubt that he was supremely talented, fun to watch for the fans of the sport, a credit to humanity and a tremendous loss to his surviving family.

So, penance paid and time to own up to the description of the blog.

Let's talk about what no one wants to say right now, shall we?

1) Death is pointless. Wheldon's was especially so.

One of the ESPN talking heads described auto racing and boxing as the only true sports, because you can die doing them. Everything else is just a game.

Well, fine. Tell you what, then: let's outlaw sports. Right now.

We don't allow gladiator bloodsport, right? Nor do we let even UFC guys go for killing assaults. Players have to wear helmets. Fines are levied for irresponsible behavior. Employers are sued into the fires of hell for unsafe working conditions. People go to jail for even the unintentional act of killing other people, assuming you can prove negligence.

Auto racing? It continues.

I'm 42, with a wife and two kids. You know what I'm not OK with? Dying. Leaving my family behind without giving them everything I can -- and money isn't the least of it, but it's pretty damned close -- to make sure that they make the world a better place. (I'm also really not good with just about anything that leaves little kids without a father, especially if the father in question was actually a decent person. In other shocking news, I'm not a big fan of our growing collection of wars, let alone wars for other people's religions and fossil fuels. But let's stay on racing for this post.)

Wheldon didn't need to race anymore. He had made money at this, had proven his talent, and clearly had the brains to go do something else to ensure that he'd be there for his family beyond the Jesus age of 33.

I get doing what you love for a living. I'm lucky enough to be able to do that, too. But if my job came with a pretty damned serious risk of death, I think I'd give it up once I had kids. Because that job is more important. And there are other jobs.

2) Grief Offs Are Unseemly.

I understand that for many of Wheldon's fans, this is powerfully awful. I get that sharing those feelings is part of the grieving process. And I get that in all things, human beings have to, on some unconscious level, compete. I'm clearly guilty of that last bit in even talking about this now.

But, um, still? Let's say that Wheldon was known, and knew himself, four or five thousand people from all of his travels and races. That's a lot, really; that's way more than any Facebook profile of anyone I've ever been in contact with. But it's still nowhere near what the media coverage of this reflects. So where is all of the grief really coming from?

Competition. A lack of connection to the people who should really matter to the mourners. The relative lack of perspective that the only constant in life is change, and that the only thing we truly own is time, and that we can not know how much we have left. And the fact that we get to watch how he died. In slow motion, even.

So, if you didn't know the man and are engaged in a prolonged fugue over his passing...

In the kindest, gentlest, softest possible voice I can express in print...

Grow up. And turn the damned television off. (And to those showing it over and over again, please keep in mind that your lives are spent in the service of, let's not put too fine a point on this, evil.)

Because this death thing you are all going through right now *isn't* about you. And it will happen over and over and over again to you, so you better get used to it.

If, of course, you are lucky.

3) If you like motor sports and aren't the least bit shaken by what happened, I'm glad not to know you.

Every time an NFL player goes off on a stretcher, I'm reminded of how the sport that is simply more compelling than anything else in North America is a vice. A gambling vice for nerds and touts, a timesuck vice for all, the sin of judging others, the sin of enjoying violence and the misery of others -- these, we all accept. But when the stretcher and ambulance comes out and everyone stares at their shoes for some serious length of time, even as awful in its commonality as that is, it should shake you. You like something that can cause permanent damage to other people.

And if you like auto racing, you like something that gets people killed. Right in front of you, in never can it be unseen fashion.

And I'm not sure how you shake that and put it the next race back on your television, really. That's a scary talent you've got there, really.

4) Wheldon's death will change very little, and in all likelihood, this would please him.

There will still be racing, probably for as long as you or I or anyone reading this blog will be alive. Whether the cars burn gasoline or electricity or hydrogen, whether the cars are open wheeled or NASCAR, whether the fans get to see cameras from the cars or 3-D or smell-o-vision or anything else you can dream up. Maybe there will be an outpouring of good will to his kids, and maybe there will be a lasting legacy or charity that takes care of them. Maybe there will be memorials to his honor than transcend the years, or his kids could grow up to race in his footsteps.

But there will still be people doing this, and in all likelihood, dying from it.

Which leaves us with the last and worst thing to say, of all the last and worst things to say...

5) A better society would not see this as entertainment.

They'd see it as a tragedy machine, a waste of finite resources, a cruel approximation of sport in which random chance can make a momentary defeat into crimes against humanity.

They'd wonder if the entertainment benefit could ever outweigh the costs, and say, well, no. No, it can not.

And if all of that seems wrong, or soft-headed, or against personal liberty, or anything else that makes you very, very angry with me for saying it, just do me one favor before you post your comment.

Go scroll up to the top of the post, and take another look at his wife and kids.

Then come back down and tell me how I'm wrong for wanting the thing that killed him to go the hell away.


Tracer Bullet said...

You can argue that he was doing something pointless and dangerous, but a significant number of things meet that criteria. My father was hit by a car while riding his bicycle and very well have died, leaving behind four children age 15 or younger. That was just a hobby for him, a way to exercise and relieve stress, and didn't come with potential for millions of dollars. I don't know how you remove risk, or even equalize risk vs. benefit, for every activity in life, because how many things are worth the risk of dying?

Bill Becker said...

At this is why your blog is at the top of the list. Can't imagine your insights if you were able to post at a decent hour.

DMtShooter said...

Probably no better, BB. And thanks.

DMtShooter said...

TB, I don't have a particular problem with doing pointless and dangerous things; that's part of Being A Man, after all. And riding a bike does have a point (fitness) and isn't usually that dangerous.

This man died for his job when he had a family, and nothing about his job will change. It doesn't parse.

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