Monday, June 3, 2013

Noble Death or Darwin Award?

Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young were storm chasers employed by The Weather Channel. News were all killed while chasing tornadoes near El Reno Oklahoma. With the news of their deaths infiltrating social media, many people around the world are sharing their grief. At first, I thought they were a bunch of adrenaline junkie morons who, for the pursuit of photographs, got themselves killed. I was wrong.  I had to throw away about eighty percent of what I wrote, and start anew.  I used to think that these people were just stupid for putting their lives in danger. Not anymore. 

Katia and Maurice Krafft

In 1991, French volcanologists  Katia and Maurice Krafft were killed while filming eruptions at Mount Unzen. They died when a pyroclastic flow suddenly swept onto their ridge. They were killed instantly. Their provided some of the most amazing footage and photographs to the National Geographic.

Dian Fossey was a respected Zoologist living and studying gorillas in the mountain forests of Rwanda  She was found dead. There was a successful Hollywood movie made about her life, Gorillas in the Mist.

Ocbober 2003, Tim Treadwell was eaten alive by an Alaskan Grisly bear. The audio portion of his death was recorded by his video camera. He had lived among the bears for nearly a decade. A documentary film Grizzly Man came out a few years following his death.

Over the last few days I have been thinking about whether or not these people deserve the Darwin Award. At first I thought - yes, then I changed my mind. Then I wrestled with the question, what does  it mean to die a noble death? Is death for the pursuit of science noble? 

Dian Fossey's death was a tragedy. She was a respected zoologist studying the ecology and behavior of our fellow primates.  Katia and Maurice Krafft also made great contributions to science. These people brought the world some of the first and most amazing photographs of primates and volcanoes.

Tim was a an odd man, but if he did not live with the bears he would have lived as a shadow of himself. I value authenticity in myself, and would be nothing short of a hypocrite if I did not value Tim's authenticity. Granted, I still think that life is more important, and should never be risked, but if he feels differently so be it. If we have the right to choose how we live, where we live, what we will eat then surely we have the right to chose how we will end our lives. 

I am genuinely sad for the storm chasers. I cannot imaging the pain Ms. Samaras must be enduring at this moment, having lost her husband and her son. Yet, I know these unnecessary deaths will inspire us to ask more philosophical questions about how to live authentically and what it means to die a noble death. 

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