On Kobe, death, and grieving
Today I’m reminded of two things: my devotion to the Los Angeles Lakers, and my reasons for hating social media.
I come from a family of Laker fans, with several appearances at the Fabulous Forum and Staples Center notched on our belts. I remember me, my brother, and my mother taking in a game on Christmas Day in 2008 against the hated Celtics. Kobe Bryant dazzled with 27 points in a Laker win, though I remember it more as a family moment than a sports moment. Watching one of the greatest ever with people that I love is something I will cherish forever. That’s why the news of Kobe dying in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter hit me rather hard. It’s my allegiance to the team that connects me to my family as it once was, and to times that have gone by.
And then there are those who, because social media is what it is, bring up his rape trial and attempt to shame everyone for mourning a horrible man who was handed a seven-year contract after allegedly victimizing a woman. Let me make this clear: that was no small matter, and by no means am I diminishing the seriousness of what happened or undermining the suffering of the victim. In the retelling of Kobe’s story, that sordid chapter of his life should not be forgotten.
That being said, I’ve noticed over the past few hours that we seem to have a skewed sense of what death is.
Mankind has endured thousands of years of blind belief that death is a punishment, a reward, or both, which is why there will always be wars and there will always be churches. Some of us, particularly those who are older, are aware of what death really is: an absence, an unavoidable end, and not much more. No matter how much botox you stick in your face or how many guns you stockpile, you will die. No exceptions. Death is only sad for the living. And the living will grieve in their own way, not out of a sense of duty or self-righteousness, but for our connection to the dead.
Have you noticed this always seems to happen when a celebrity dies? Scores of know-it-all’s respond on social media with either “who cares?” or “how dare you!” Kicking the grieving when they’re down as though it’s not normal to have feelings for an actor or a musician or a basketball player you didn’t know personally. Some of them will even attempt to politicize the situation and make a competition out of shedding tears. That’s not how human beings work. Never has been.
Let’s agree to this. Next time a highly popular and/or controversial figure passes this mortal coil and you feel said person is not worthy of praise even in death, do one simple thing: say nothing. Let those who are sad be sad. Your blood pressure won’t raise, and the living will memorialize them in their own way. I promise you I will uphold my end of the bargain. When Donald Trump or Joe Arpaio kick the bucket, you will be shocked by my silence, because it is not my place to tell you how you should feel. Some people are just not interested in getting involved in silly culture wars, so let them be.
Kobe Bryant is dead. My sorrow is the shared sorrow of every basketball fan in L.A. and beyond. My wish is for peace and strength to the Bryant family and all those who knew him. And may the story of his tragic mistake be told and retold as a lesson to every young man, and may his accuser find comfort.
Tonight I’m feeling what I’m feeling. I don’t need your instruction.