Thursday, July 28, 2011

Amy's Last Gift

Saturday morning, I woke up to what felt like a typical Saturday. My sis and I had declared it a "Lazy Day", the reward we both wanted for a stressful couple of weeks filled with tech rehearsals, performances, school (my sister is a full-time student and still has classes during the summer), work (my sis also has a part-time job that usually consumes her weekends), et cetera. We just wanted a day spent on the couch, watching television, and maybe eating a little less healthily than usual. (Okay, the "worst" I did was go to Wendy's and try their wild berry frosty parfait. It's not bad.) While sis slept in a little, I checked out Facebook and read about the devastating attack in Norway where a gunman essentially invaded an island retreat for young members of Norway's ruling party and opened fire, killing dozens of innocent kids. Horrifying. As I read the accounts of his attack, I felt sick and eventually had to stop reading because I was overwhelmed by the sheer terror these kids must have felt and the horrific final moments so many of them endured.

A couple hours later, I was in the kitchen and my sis yelled from the living room, "Oh my God! Amy Winehouse is dead!" We ran back to the den to get on the computer and check our reliable news sources to confirm the tweet my sis had gotten from a friend. Within moments, Facebook was cluttered with "RIP Amy" messages as well as the expected quips about rehab and her lack of desire to go there. Eventually, as the day progressed, the "RIP"s gave way to people railing against the Amy messages and wondering where the grief was for Norway.

To me, the answer seems more obvious than the typical "Americans care more about celebrities than 'real' people" argument that I sensed was behind the Facebook complaints. Amy's death is a death we can metaphorically wrap our minds around. I mean, yes, I was sad when she died and felt that momentary jolt of shock you feel whenever you hear of any death, but it wasn't all that shocking in the grand scheme of things. It's the kind of death we've experienced in the news over and over again -- a promising life and career cut short by someone's absolute inability to resist an appetite. We understand that death because we've seen it over and over again.

Norway, however, is something we can't quite understand and so it becomes easier to reject it in a sense, to shift our attention to something we can relate to. How in the world can we comprehend the depths of sickness and evil it takes to gun down innocent kids? How can we hear the tale of what those kids went through without feeling a part of our spirits just die? When I began telling my sis what had happened on that island retreat, she held up a hand a minute or so into my story, tears welling up in her eyes, and begged me to stop. She could not handle another second of imagining the horror on that island. Granted, my sis and I tend to be a little more empathetic than others, but I can't imagine that we were the only people who had such powerful reactions.

And so it's easier to grieve for Amy. We "know" her. We "get" her. We can crack jokes, we can collect our winnings from having her name in the death pool, and we can move on secure in the idea that bad things happen in a relatively predictable and even controllable way. (After all, we can think, had Amy just stuck with rehab .....) Amy's death is a part of us but yet removed from us. We can escape her fate by not, you know, being completely addicted to drugs. Norway, though, reminds us that sometimes, there is no escape. Lunatics just wake up and decide to go kill a bunch of kids and there's nothing we can do about it. No amount of racial profiling (sorry, Fox News, but he WASN'T a Muslim extremist like you wanted him to be in your initial reports) can protect us from tragedy. Our defense mechanism, then, is to push that thought away and focus on the predictable, vicarious one. The one last gift Amy could give us (outside of an album that deserves to go down in history as one of the greatest in the modern pop/rock era -- seriously, go give Back to Black a listen and tell me that album doesn't blow your mind) is that escape from the harsh realities about the depths of evil that lurk around us. It may seem cowardly to turn our eyes away from that, but it makes it possible to get out of bed a lot of mornings to think of a world full of sunshine and sad but expected celebrity deaths than crazed gunmen popping up out of nowhere.

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