In the film “About Schmidt,” an older couple mourns the passing of Schmidt’s wife, who was pretty active in the community and had many friends. “She was…too young to die.” Some laugh at the line, given her advanced age, but maybe that couple has point.
Usually when someone youthful of media fame passes away, the line in the press is that the person was “too young to die.” What they’ve done is conflate youth with productivity and contribution to society. Younger people may be able to run faster, lift more, but can they always “do more?”
Every death is sad, of course, and I am certainly not implying that anyone “deserves” to die. But I am challenging the assertion that the phrase “before their time” should only apply to people under 40.
We have seen some younger people pass away who really were making a real difference in life. For them, the statement “they were too young to die” could even be replaced by “they had so much more to offer.”
There are also a number of people covered extensively by the media who engage in terrible, self-destructive (and getting more coverage in the process). When the sad, inevitable end comes, after one bad decision too many, we are told to lament for that individual, because they died too young. We can certainly mourn their loss, but I’m not sure their contribution would be more valuable than anyone else’s.
A Japanese politician made headlines when he argued that elderly people “should just hurry up and die,” in order to reduce health spending in Japan, an ironic comment by a 72-year-old deputy prime minister (http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/top-japanese-official-urges-elderly-hurry-die-140528732—abc-news-topstories.html). Now that’s a real “death panel” supporter.
Aso’s comments reflect the notion that older folks really don’t have as much to contribute, that their life isn’t very precious. They take more than they give. Society would be better off without them.
This year, we’ve seen several leading members of the community pass away. Many of them are older, but don’t seem to let that advanced age stop them. Some were pretty heavily involved in the community, college and church. Perhaps like that elderly couple in “About Schmidt,” we need to think about the vacuum their loss will produce, and who will fill their great service and contribution to society.
And it isn’t just the folks who join the civic organizations. It’s the folks who volunteer, teach in schools, or just provide a friendly greeting and smile in church. As a worker and a parent, like most of you reading this, you know how easy it feels to get run down by the schedule, and how a kind word can be a game changer for the day.
This column is dedicated to Lollie Love, Rita Kitts, Walt Lukken and Ida Tarver Jones, and all the others in the community who had so much left to give the rest of us.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College.