Felicity is right (in her comment on my previous post), I have to write about Heath Ledger. I didn’t want to because I wasn’t sure I had any right to mourn his death as if I had been any part of his life that made any sense at all. It is so difficult to find the line between genuine concern and plain old celebrity gossip. Christians are especially confused about this, but I think the whole world is really. When it comes to marriages and break-ups and births and style, we are embarrassed that we care. So we pretend that we don’t, and we scoff at those who do, and we look at the magazine covers through our peripheral vision ONLY. But when it comes to young mothers losing custody of their children and when it comes to death, we pounce. At that point we feel our concern is acceptable because the magnitude of the sorrow overwhelms the gulf between feeling that we know them yet recognizing that we could not even possibly.
I wonder when people hope for fame, or even for success in the field of entertainment, I wonder if they realize they are giving us permission to care. Someone on Oprah once explained that it is because of our ancestry’s tribal tendencies. You knew someone was a member of your tribe simply because you recognized them. Suddenly, Britney Spears feels like that girl we met at summer camp once. And Heath Ledger may as well have been the transfer student in our sixth period history class.
I don’t feel embarrassed that I care. I only feel sad that I didn’t find a way to think more seriously about Heath Ledger before this moment. I feel sad that I didn’t consider his humanity, his religion, or his peace of mind until he died, at which point I thought about them over and over again in a sadly curious and wholly ineffective way.
He didn’t really ever give me permission to care. But I do. I just don’t know what to do about it.