Young white and dead

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but young, white dead people are hot news at the moment.

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It may have something to do with boosting newspaper circulation figures, but you know the drill.

Someone in their early 20s goes backpacking abroad and has an accident; or a crazed bowie-knife wielding random murders them.

Something bothers me about all this. It’s not the deaths, tragic though they are. I find it hard to mourn for strangers while endless news bombards my senses. No, it’s the peculiar bias such stories seem to have.

The victims are almost always young, white and middle class. If they are single women in the prime of life, so much the better for the journos’ raddled sensibilities. It helps if they have recently graduated: plenty of scope for saying, ‘She had everything to look forward to.’

And she did…. But I can’t help noticing the absence of young black people in these stories. You could be forgiven for thinking that tragedy never strikes if you belong to another ethnic group. I have often wondered why this is.

Then it struck me. The victims whom the ‘meejah’ focus on remind tabloid readers of their own nearest and dearest. If you regularly read the Daily Depress, it’s likely you have a son or daughter resembling the dear departed – so you will swallow hard and think, ‘Christ! That could have been our Emily!’

You can then scamper back to the womb-like safety of your semi, in the sure knowledge that the Reaper’s lust for souls has been sated… for now. While you’re about it, you might want to install an extra lock on the door, and reflect on what a terrible place the world has become.

All this demise and doom hints at a deeper meaning – an almost ritualistic sense of loss. Consider the Princess of Wales, and the very public grief her death inflicted on us. The media probably helped to kill her; but as we consume more and more news we create a dangerous hunger in ourselves. We want to be comforted as well as informed, but somehow we just end up feeling ever more terrified.

The truth is that nothing is risk free or guaranteed, and we hate to admit that in the end we are all food for worms. And on that cheery note, thanks for reading!

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On death

I decided to write about death because I recently met someone who had been diagnosed with liver cancer. With treatment he went into remission, but he had been told he was terminal. Death is everywhere but we choose not to see it. The dead cat by the side of the road, the weary feeling in our bones which we can get rid of with a brisk walk; these are signs of our mortality.

I’m inspired by a poem which, I believe, dates from ancient Egypt, around 3000 BC :

Death is before me today
like the recovery of a sick man,
like the going forth into a garden after sickness.

Death is before me today
like the odor of myrrh,
like sitting under a sail on a windy day.

Death is before me today
like the course of the freshet,
like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.

Death is before me today
as a man longs to see his house
when he has spent years in captivity.

Here, death is seen as release and freedom: a new beginning preferable to the stagnation of exile or waiting for conflict. At last, here it is the old bastard! Personally I feel like Woody Allen who said, ‘I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’ Wise words there, Woody.

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