What We Share
I had an unusual day last Sunday. I didn't work or obsessively check the news. I think I even kept my iPad in another room.
So I was shocked when my mother called me sometime in the afternoon to tell me Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in a humiliating but no longer shocking fashion -- in his bathroom with a needle in his arm.
"Why do people do that to themselves?" my mother asked. We shared a moment of grief for Hoffman, talking about the man as if he was a family friend. But people have that kind of odd distant familiarity with celebrities -- they bare themselves (not just talking about nudity, here) in movies, so we feel like we know them.
No doubt it seems strange to mourn someone we didn't know, who is as distant from us in lifestyle and circumstances as you can get. But I think most of us forget something we all share: life. And that's why we took a moment to feel sad for Hoffman.
Every person on this planet, from a forgotten peasant in the Middle Ages, to Marie Antoinette, to your cousin in Ohio, and an Oscar-winning actor, has the same experiences. Life is hard, for absolutely everyone.
I'm not talking about life being hard in tragic ways -- terminal illness or natural disasters or war. I'm talking about life's million little cruelties. A broken heart. The feeling that you're not quite good enough. Fears and phobias. Uncertainty. Not all of us must suffer the death of a child or a cancer diagnosis at 25, but we all must deal with the little things that chip away at us until we're too tired to carry on.
We are all in the same boat -- we all suffer. Even people who seem to have it all.
One time or another we've all been at the point, even just for a brief moment, when we didn't think we were strong enough to keep going. Maybe we didn't take that thought to its extreme end, but I wager most of us have felt sorrow and hopelessness deep enough to begin to understand.
Now, you may not think it based on the previous paragraphs, but I am indeed an optimist. But I guess I'm a realist, too. I've never shied away from considering life's darker side, exploring ideas that other people would find uncomfortable. I'm the kind of person who reads books about serial killers, if that gives you any idea of what I mean.
Life is indeed dark. But I will always believe that life -- despite its ugliness -- can be lived with joy and hope 99 percent of the time. But sometimes, you really have to try, on those days when life's cruelties stack up against you.
We are all just people, even those of us who are famous or rich. Strip away everything and we're not different from each other: We all try to do our best, we all spend days hating ourselves, we're all scared and worried.
And when one of us succumbs, defeated by life, we should practice compassion and tolerance. We've all been there, but most of us are able to pull ourselves back up.