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Friday, August 9, 2013

"He would have wanted it that way"

The masters national championship in swimming is taking place in Mission Viejo, California right now. Two nights ago, on the first night of the meet, a 65-year-old swimmer, Louis Slater, died after being pulled from the water during the 1500 meter freestyle.

They took a quick poll of the swimmers there about whether to continue swimming the event, and, according to Swimming World, those polled evidently responded by saying that they should continue, since Slater "would have wanted it that way."

How many times have we heard that used as an excuse for survivors to do whatever they please? There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue the meet; that's what the swimmers are there for. They've trained hard all year for this opportunity, they've traveled all the way to Mission Viejo, and they want their chance to perform.

But to pass off doing what they want as some vaguely noble gesture intended to fulfill the dead man's wishes seems fatuous and self-serving. Especially considering that most of the people surveyed probably didn't even know Slater.

Who knows what Slater would have wanted? Maybe he would have wanted the entire meet canceled in his honor. Unless you can read minds, there's no way of telling.

We're constructed to feel overwhelming grief when loved ones die, but not when a stranger dies, or every time we read the obits. And there's nothing wrong with that. (It's certainly not okay to do anything to hasten strangers' deaths; but it's perfectly natural not to feel anything when they occur.)

But for some reason, a lot of people seem to feel it incumbent upon them to put on a little show of grief for people they care nothing about. It's dishonest, and a little silly.

A more reasonable, straightforward response to the question asked two nights ago would have been, "Listen, if canceling or postponing the rest of the event would somehow bring Slater back, then I'd obviously be for it. But since it won't do him any good, why cancel? We're all here to swim, let's do it."

This afternoon I plan to have a few beers, go to a massage parlor, and then have a steak dinner washed down with some Grand Marnier. But please don't think me selfish or self-indulgent. The only reason I'll be doing these things is because, well, James Gandolfini would have wanted it that way.


Anonymous said...

The question isn't, "Would the deceased have wanted it that way?"; it's "Who will he be rooting for, while looking down from Heaven?"

John Craig said...

Anon --

A said...

Have you read Theodore Dalrymple's "Spoilt rotten: the toxic cult of sentimentality"? It's about this subject, essentially.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I have not, but will take a look at it, thank you.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Just read the Wikipedia summary of the book. Yes, he makes a lot of good points about sentimentality, and I suppose my point, which is much narrower, could have been included in Chapter II. Thanks for pointing that out.