Peruse social media for a moment and you’ll find all manner of people cursing 2016.
You’re killing our favorite stars! This year can’t end quickly enough. Get Betty White/Madonna/fill in the blank to a safe house stat. And so on.
These sentiments generally come from a good place, which makes it easier to excuse the conceit that a calendar year, an indifferent block of 52 weeks, can commit murder. If “Star Wars” meant something to you, chances are Carrie Fisher’s death affected you. If you ever danced to “Let’s Go Crazy,” you mourned Prince. Was it really this year that David Bowie died? Yep. Jan. 10. Seems like ages ago.
Muhammad Ali. George Michael. Sharon Jones. Gene Wilder. Anton Yelchin. Sometimes they departed in clusters: Joining Fisher was Richard Adams, author of the beloved “Watership Down,” followed the very next day by Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds. Obit writers have been working overtime. Individuals and media outlets have scrambled figuring out whom to mourn and how.
It’s a ghoulish process, the prioritizing of death. Social media allows us all to participate in a chorus of grief that sometimes feels like a competition. We binge and purge on the dramatic tragedy.
It all obscures the fact that people die every minute of every day of every year; “ordinary” people who perhaps didn’t touch us with their art or influence or celebrity. Breaking news: You’ll join them someday.
As Clint Eastwood says to the kid in “Unforgiven” who insists a dead man had it coming: “We all have it coming, kid.” Or, as Sufjan Stevens puts it in the haunting track “Fourth of July”: “We’re all gonna die.”
Did an inordinate number of people die in 2016?
Logic tells us no. But we are getting older, which means the famous folks we grew up worshipping are getting closer to the finish line, and in many cases passing it. Some are paying the price for the vices that accompanied their stardom.
Some, including Jones and Craig Sager, survived cancer, only to find that the illness dubbed “The Emperor of All Maladies” by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee is a tenacious monster.
Keep mourning, and keep celebrating the lives of those you mourn. But don’t assume recent weeks and months are anything unique.
Death comes with the package of life. And the only schedule it follows is its own.