Daniel Defoe, early eighteenth century novelist (Robinson Crusoe), pamphleteer, and part-time spy, is usually credited with the first use of some form of the phrase about the certainty of both death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin borrowed from Defoe and refined it: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." And, in Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell included a play on the now famous maxim: "Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."
Columns such as mine talk a lot these days about taxes – maybe too much. But we certainly don’t talk enough about death, except when someone famous or beloved, sometimes both, passes on.
How many times have you heard the idea that bad things come in “threes?” Well, Ed McMahon passed the other day; so did Farrah Fawcett, now comes the death of pop icon Michael Jackson. The first two events seemed to be sadly imminent for sometime, one because of chronic health issues due to age, the other because of a battle – valiantly fought – with cancer. Mr. McMahon was 86, the former Charlie’s Angel was 62; Michael was 50.
There was Stephen Johns, the kind and generous security guard who opened a door at the Holocaust Museum recently, only to be gunned down by a hateful excuse of a man. And just the other day, a memorial service was held here in the Washington, D.C. area for Jeanice McMillan, the Metro train operator who perished after gallantly trying to stop her train from crashing into another. By all accounts, the lady was a hero. Then, of course, there are the eight others who died in that rail tragedy. Among them, Retired Major General, David Wherley, former commander of the D.C. Army and Air National Guard, and his wife, Ann, along with LaVonda King, a 23-year old mom on her way to pick up her two boys from daycare.
Of course, any morning newspaper is filled with death notices, names that mean something to relatively few as compared to what happens when someone famous dies. So, why is it that we find ourselves moved – even a little emotional – when we hear of the passing of someone we only knew from afar? Is it just because of the whole overdone 24/7 news coverage, looping stuff over and over and talking ad infinitum about a person?
I actually think something else is at play. Something deeper. Something instinctive. Something that is directly tied to how we are all wired.
Centuries ago, a king whose name is synonymous with wisdom, but who actually did a lot of dumb things – that being another story – reflected: