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Wasted Lives?

 It is a decent but rather overworked cliché to say of talented people who die young that their lives were ‘wasted’.  The same convention has often been applied of late to soldiers killed in action. 

While the custom is well-meaning, it is also meaningless, and strikes me as vaguely insulting – or at least unsettling.

Was singer Amy Winehouse’s life wasted?  Ms. Winehouse, who was possessed of a rare if unfulfilled talent, was found dead from a drug, or drink, overdose in her London flat this weekend.  Sure, she died young and in awful circumstances that must have been wrenching for her parents, family and friends, but she also left something of a legacy in her songs and her voice. 

Soldiers who signed up to fight in a war, knowing full well the risks involved, at least died doing what they evidently wanted to do.

Please don’t misunderstand me; Amy’s death this weekend was sad, profoundly sad.  But if it was tragic – another sombre word we often trot out on these occasions – it must surely be seen as relatively tragic. 

Tragedy of a more absolute kind was reserved for the dozens of Norwegians gunned down pointlessly by a maniac on some kind of deranged mission to save the world from…. well, from what isn’t exactly clear.  Muslims, immigrants and Marxists were among those prominent on his extended list of intended victims.   Most of those hunted and killed like wild animals were none of those things – not that it would have made more sense or counted as less tragic if they had been.

Our problem in describing the death of anyone who hasn’t been afforded the privilege of dying of old age (of them we can at least mumble that they’d had a “good innings”) is that there is nothing original or meaningful to say.  This is why, at funerals, we mutter our condolences to the bereaved with self-conscious embarrassment and scurry away as quickly as we can to get a drink.      

Amy Winehouse joins a long list of rock stars whose demons were irrevocably expunged in a final orgy of self-destruction.  I for one am sorry to hear of her passing. 

But the young Norwegians who met their end, without warning and to no sensible purpose, at an idyllic summer camp, are the ones who stick in my mind as I ponder the events of this bloody awful, and bloody, weekend.

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