Posted in America, Columbus, Reflections, tagged America, Columbus, Death, Death Cafe, Reflections, Taboos, United Kingdom on July 25, 2012 |
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In America, is there a taboo about talking — or even thinking — about death? If so, how should people deal with that taboo?
Recently the first “Death Cafe” to be held in the United States occurred here in Columbus. (I didn’t attend, but I heard it mentioned on a local NPR station and thought the idea sounded interesting.) “Death Cafe” began in the United Kingdom; it seeks to deal with the death taboo by encouraging people to meet and talk about death over tea and cake. The underlying concept, as the linked website explains, is that thinking and talking about death will cause people to focus on leaving a legacy and ensuring that their lives have meaning — and that focus may lead them to behave in a more selfless way before they hit the point of ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
I’m not sure that there is a taboo, in America, in talking about death. To be sure, it doesn’t come up often in friendly conversation, but I don’t sense that is due to custom or societal prohibition. Instead, I think it’s simply because there are lots of other interesting things to discuss. When tragedy strikes and a close friend or loved one dies, I don’t feel constrained about discussing death, and I don’t think my friends and family members do, either. Some people may not want to confront their mortality, but many of us recognize the inevitability of our demise and at least want to make sure that we have things in place for our survivors. Why else would people buy life insurance or pre-pay for a cemetery plot?
That said, if there are people who feel abashed in talking about death, and Death Cafe helps them overcome their reluctance, the idea has served a salutary purpose. I’m all in favor of anything that might make people behave better to their fellow man in the here and now.
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A Colorado judge has ruled that the media won’t be able to take pictures of James Holmes, the man accused of gunning down innocent moviegoers at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado last week, when Holmes appears for a hearing in his criminal case next week.
The judge denied the media’s request for expanded coverage and instead ruled that cameras will be barred from the hearing at which Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding another 58 in a carefully premeditated, unprovoked attack, will be formally charged with his crimes. His lawyers had objected to the media’s request. Some of the families of the victims also objected to the media printing Holmes’ name and photo.
I respect the wishes of the victims and their families, but I disagree with them. Holmes will be charged with horrific crimes — crimes that have shaken and touched the nation. He will be tried in a public forum, in a proceeding that naturally is of intense interest to the people of Colorado specifically and the American people generally. Why shouldn’t the media be able to discreetly take photos of the hearing, given the long-established right of public access to criminal proceedings?
No one is advocating that the news media be allowed to convert the proceedings into a circus, but the days of the Sam Sheppard case are long since over, and many criminal trials have been broadcast in recent years without disturbing the dignity and solemnity of criminal proceedings. The judge in this case should follow those examples. Americans have a right to see Holmes as he confronts his accusers and deals with the consequences of the terrible actions for which he stands accused.
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