I saw (via InstaPundit) that the "Crocodile Hunter," whom I learned was really named Steve Irwin, died after an encounter with a sting ray. Austin Bay has some words for the event, with which I find I entirely disagree. He portrays Steve Irwin as some sort of haunted figure, suffering from some dark inner need:
In the komodo dragon show I thought Irwin crossed the line from skilled showmanship to inexcuseable thrill-seeking – wagered mortality is tantalizing, but adds a queasy, dark twist to a family program. I told my wife “I wonder if this guy (Irwin) has a death wish?”I myself have seen only one episode of "The Crocodile Hunter," one time -- precisely because I can't stand some of the qualities Austin Bay admires. What he found enthusiastic and personable, I found irritating and noisy.
If my comments on the komodo dragon show seem a bit harsh, understand I’ve watched it a half-dozen times. I’ve gaped with the rest of the circus audience.
But I may never watch it again. Irwin died over the weekend, died while filming at-close-quarters another dangerous species. The poisoned barb of a sting ray put a hole in his heart.... [It was a] violent, unnecessary death.
Irwin was idiosyncratic, personable, enthusiastic, informed, and physically courageous. That’s a lot to admire. But what drove him to get too close one too many times?
That said, Irwin may have been the least dark, haunted figure in easy memory. He got close to those animals because he loved them. That is the same reason he read all he could about them, and loved to tell others about them.
Far from a death wish -- a wish easy to fulfill, if it is genuine! -- Irwin seems to me to have had a real love of life and of the world into which he was born. It is a dangerous world, but he refused to be afraid of it. He embraced that world as he found it, and if it killed him, well, it's going to kill all of us, too.
So, no, it wasn't an unnecessary death: he was already going to die. So are you.
It was a violent death, but so what? Violent is not a synonym for bad. Do you really want to die from organ failure in some hospital, or after some lingering illness? If not, you've really only got two options: die suddenly from a heart attack or other quick-acting cause, or die violently.
An argument can be made that a family man has a duty to survive, as long as survival is honorable, in order to provide for his family. Well, I don't doubt that Irwin had laid plenty of investments, so that his family is protected from ruin. His death will surely cause them grief, but so would his death from a heart attack. We aren't entitled to have those we love around forever, any more than we are entitled not to die.
A serious engagement with the deepest philosophical questions in life suggests to me that Irwin lived exactly the right way. He was an adventurer, and if I found his television manner impossible to tolerate, I admire everything else about the man. May I die the same way: engaged in experiencing, and loving, the world into which I was born.
Not fearing death is not the same thing as wishing for it. Neither is it dark. It is the right and proper attitude: the one to which the sages and the religions alike counsel us, and which martial art and meditation both seek to create.
The Crocodile Hunter got that, got all of it. Good for him!