Saturday, 29 November 2014

speaking the important messages with care - on grieving a public figure and stories that go untold

This one is about Australia, and mostly for Australia.

We are in shock. A young man who plays cricket for his country died playing cricket. It is all over news media and social media, all over the world. Sports men and women, elite and amateur, across many different sports are putting out their bats in honour of Philip Hughes, who died last week when a cricket ball hit him on the wrong part of his head.

I have seen a few posts on Facebook reeling at the disproportionate attention afforded this tragedy in the midst of human tragedies of refugees from war zones, hunger, illness, rejection at our borders, insurmountable challenges facing oppressed indigenous populations of many nations ... I could go on.

I reel at this reeling. Yes, call to account the sweeping under the carpet of injustice and human tragedy too inconvenient for our liking. But please take care as you do so.

The deaths of Indigenous folk in custody, of refugees held in detention off shore, of our precious environment are all deaths as worthy of our grief and attention as the death of a cricketer. I wish folk wouldn't put it in such a way as to suggest that the death of this one man is less worthy of our attention because he was a sporting hero.

I thought Joe Hildebrand's words the other day were a thoughtful pondering of why we give so much attention to some tragedies and not others:
it has also pierced the heart of anyone who has lost a son or a brother or any other loved one too soon and I suspect many a parent has tucked in their child more tightly tonight, perhaps with an extra kiss upon their brow

But there is more I want to say. It strikes me that we ought to take care in diminishing the importance of our sporting heroes, as an unworthy focusing of attention by the media. To be sure, it gets way out of hand, often, and the respect for the privacy and humanity of public figures across a range of walks of life is forgotten far too often.

But public figures (whether they choose to or not) serve the community as symbolic bearers of our hopes, joys and struggles as humans. Their stories - and especially for sporting figures - of dedication and discipline, of courage and rising to the challenge, of excellence and the beauty of the moment, the wicket, the drive, the goal, the save ... their failures and their victories - these stories play out human stories and show us who we are.

As an aside, I wonder the difference it would make if we were more aware of this role our public figures play, were grateful for it and respected it; if we remembered that their lives are public stories only in part and they, like us, have private stories to live. In this remembering, might we then honour the boundaries around their public story and their private stories, and honour their humanity, a bit better than we do at present?


Coming back to the present tragedy, and the apparent disproportionate attention we give to this one death when the stories of so many tragedies could be told. Joe Hildebrand also said that we grieve the most for those who are closest, and if we grieved for all the tragedies, would we have any room left for happiness?

Perhaps that is true.

Perhaps this story is told because it is the story of one of our public figures, one of the folk whose life, in part, is a story told for us. A story of his tenacity and skill as a cricketer, his sportsmanship and generosity as a human, his triumphs and disappointments as a player. Such stories remind us of our own stories of determination, disappointment, courage – our humanity. The sudden ending of a life lived as public story is a death in which we, the public, are involved.

We might also note that grief, any way, is a funny beast, and who can understand it? Even more, this death has us in shock because this man died playing cricket - and we simply do not expect a person to die playing cricket: as my friend Andrew Prior said in a comment on Facebook:
Death has intruded even into the places where, for a while, we seek to forget the savagery and the plain grind of the world.

So we are in shock. We feel we knew this one man who died, and we all are grieving.


There is a time to note our hypocrisy around the stories that are and are not told. That moment, I suggest, is not in the midst of our shared public grieving for a public figure whose story was told to us. And when the moment is right, please let not your calling out of the diminishing of some humans be a diminishing of another.

postscript:

I wonder, too, if some of the great outpouring of grief and shock is for Sean Abbott, who delivered the ball.

I wonder if it is because, on cricket grounds around the world, thousands are going out to play cricket, to bowl, to bat, and cannot do so this weekend, or possibly ever again, without thinking of Philip Hughes and Sean Abbott, and that fateful, tragic moment - without thinking, that could have been me.

Death just is not supposed to intrude onto the cricket ground, as Andrew said - that is where we go for a different story.

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