I thought of an analogy. Adolescence is like walking through a tunnel made of one-way mirrors. All you can see is yourself reflected on every wall, but meanwhile every one else is outside the tunnel watching you, awkward, only seeing yourself, lumbering through this lanky confused period to appear on the other end, relieved, sane, clear and thankful.
Such a conflicted time. But as a father of rapidly departing children, I think that the memories are the most painful part of life. While you are experiencing the picnics, the vacations on the beach, the nights playing basketball in the dark, the Christmas mornings, the days on a lake in a boat, the poverty, the struggling, the days before they all had cell phones—life was full and rich. And they are leaving the nest in rapid fire, just like they entered the nest, rapid fire, like little grenades into our family, changing everything, demanding much, but bringing incalculable happiness and meaning and beauty. What a life, and it’s not even over.
Like many people, I was deeply saddened by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He had some great lead roles (Synecdoche New York, The Master, Doubt, and of course his Oscar-winning performance in Capote which I wasn’t crazy about). But we also remember him for many minor roles in which he showed he could steal the: The Big Lebowski, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia.
I wonder if he knew how beloved he was by his viewers like me. He wasn’t Brad Pitt or George Clooney. He was never the “most sexy man in Hollywood.” But we love him more than a lot of other actors and feel his loss especially. I suppose it is a very common experience to love an actor so much that you feel like you are friends even if you’ve never met. We feel that way, but we have to remind ourselves that the feeling is not mutual. He or she doesn’t know us, hasn’t seen us in hours and hours of emotional situations, does not have heroic associations with us, has not wept at our suffering etc.
He died young (only 46) from a heroin overdose. Now, I’m just speculating here. Don’t freak out over what I’m about to say. In fact, if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment and explain where I’m off base. But if someone is going to die, is there any better way to go than by a heroin overdose?
Yes, I’m sad. I wish he were still alive. I admired his talent and he was a great actor. Dying is a cause for grief, especially when we feel like life was cut short, that he could have had many more years of life, continuing to bring delight and reflection to millions of people in his movies.
And of course, I do not want to suggest that heroin or any drug is anything but dangerous. And the dangers of drugs run from a little to extremely dangerous, with heroin being probably the most extremely dangerous because of the risk of addiction and self-destruction. So I’m not saying drugs are okay.
Nor do I think I am being insensitive. I’m just trying to nail something down. I am trying to separate the fact of death from the cause of death. We should hate heroin for taking Hoffman and many other human beings away from us prematurely, unnecessarily. That part is truly sad.
But he died, most likely, in a state of euphoria that you and I have never even come close to, if the descriptions are accurate.
He was not mauled by a bear, or from complications due to being hit by a car. He was not in 15 to 20 minutes of terror waiting for his crippled plane to hit the ground. He did not die a long painful death of tuberculosis or flesh-eating bacteria.
Not only did he apparently not suffer in death, but he died pursuing what each of us must admit we also would like very much to attain—escape from the pain of this world. I think we should be more understanding toward drug addicts. We shouldn’t think they are scum or degenerates. We all, you, me, and the drug addicts want the same thing: escape from the pain of the world.
We should not think they are weaker than us. We shouldn’t be quick to think that their particular weakness is beneath OUR particular weakness. On the contrary, we should admit that, if heroin were completely free of any harmful or addictive aspect, we would all be using it on a regular basis. Instead of watching a TV show in the evenings, we would come home and get high. Then get up in the morning and go to work, because, in my hypothetical situation, it has no harmful effects accompanying the indescribable good feeling it gives.
Listen to someone describe the feeling of being on heroin and I defy anyone to say you are not just a little bit envious.
Sex is similar. When you were young and a virgin and heard how good sex was, didn’t you want to try it? Yes, you did. And were you wrong for wanting to experience pleasure? No. And sex can be destructive; it can be addicting. But very often it can be enjoyed in a healthy, proper, constructive way. It is like a little drug trip.
Other forms of pleasure can work the same way. Alcohol can be dangerous, but it can also be enjoyed in a healthy, proper, constructive way. This goes for anything: hamburgers and fries, chocolate, food of any kind, although admittedly the “high” is different in some major ways. What other things do people derive pleasure from? Football. NASCAR. Horse races. Music. Words with Friends. And each of these things can take on an addiction-like quality in our lives.
So drug addicts deserve our sympathy, not our disgust. And we should realize we all pursue some degree of pleasure, which is a nice word for “relief from the pain of the world.” Drug addicts just reached for extreme pleasure, extreme escape from the world. And they pay for it.