Death is common
Saturday, February 1, 2003 by Dave Winer.
Death, when it strikes a family member or a close friend, is a terrible thing.
The families of the Shuttle astronauts are grieving tonight. Our hearts open. We share their sorrow. We want to do anything we can to help. Tonight, we pray for their souls, each of us, in our own way. Tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, the families will still grieve, while the rest of us move on.
Now, just taking a guess -- this is what the people who died would have wanted us to do. Continue. Don't stop. Space exploration is important, their lives were important too, but they knew the risks. They were scientists, seekers of knowledge. Keep going.
Talking with friends today I related a story of my father, who was striken in October with a terrible illness that put him in the hospital. By the time I arrived in New York he was unconscious; he would stay unconscious for a month. He was among people who were equally or more ill. There were hundreds. In the coming weeks many of them would die. I had never been around so much death. I came away with an impression that death is a very common thing. It's hardly the exception -- it's the rule. People are dying all the time. This is different. Up until that point in my life I believed the TV version of death, that it is unusual. And more lies.
Perhaps our grieving for the astronauts will gain a new proportion when we consider how many people die each day with no pity, no care, no one to be inspired by their lives, unknown, unappreciated, ungrieved. Just go to a hospital or nursing home, see for yourself. They're all over the place. Death is everywhere. Always. Television helps us avert our eyes, believe it happens to someone else, not us, not our heroes. Well it happens to us, and our heroes. Every day. Every night.
How many people actually say something in their lifetime? Really speak their mind and heart, express their truth, and are understood by someone, anyone, before they die? There was a real chance my father would die without us ever having had an adult conversation. He's recovering now, so there's a chance it still may happen, but I'm afraid we've still got long odds.
I think understanding and communication are the exceptional things.
Death, the end of all communication, is common.
Some ideas that occurred to me during the day.
The miracle of the astronaut's lives is that they left the planet. So few have. How many of us, knowing the risks, even today, would say yes to the opportunity to follow in their footsteps? I would.
These were the most honorable possible deaths, in pursuit of knowledge and adventure, exploring our frontiers, adding value to the human experience, defying death, and then (of course) dying.
There seems to be a sense this time that we will continue with our exploration of space, and that's a good thing.
We know greatness exists in our world because we can shoot people in metal tubes into outer space and some of them live. Wow.
To have a death that means something, now that's an unusual way to go. So few people believe they will leave anything behind that is meaningful. These people did.
I've never been sympathetic to the argument that we must solve all the problems on Earth before exploring space and living off-planet. I feel, as many scientifically educated people do, that science is an important part of the purpose of humanity and that the cost of space exploration is very small compared to the new science it creates, the new products and techniques, and the inspiration.
In fact I believe that space exploration is key to solving the problems of our planet. Only the off-planet perspective can teach us to work with each other, because the universe is so large and we are so small.