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Facing the final innings

  • 17 March 2022
  The unexpected death of the Australian cricket great, Shane Warne, at 52 years of age provoked a universal reaction of shock and surprise in Australia (and beyond). Senator Kimberly Kitching’s recent death at the same age was similarly surprising, especially to Australia’s political class.

While we have been (barely) coping with a pandemic and natural disasters, where deaths are an unfortunate reality, the death from natural causes of a larger-than-life figure like Warne — an ordinary-bloke-cum-sporting-legend, an ever-present companion to Australian audiences, and seemly untouchable — has really brought home the fragility of life. It has drastically reminded us of our mortality: that we don’t live forever, despite the glossy images constantly put before us in the media.

Death should be treated with great sensitivity, especially with respect for the families in mourning (to whom I send my condolences and prayers). In making these comments, I do not seek to add to their burden but to express something of what people seem to be feeling. The public have been deeply moved by these deaths. It is important to understand what we may be grappling with.

In Western culture, we are usually removed from death. We do not usually experience or witness it directly, in contrast to those who live in non-Western or more traditional societies. We do much to avoid contemplating our mortality. Pop culture is filled with images of young and beautiful people. The elderly and aged barely feature. The achievement of the young, especially in sport, is glorified. Scientific research is conducted to stop the ageing process, while elder abuse and neglect are increasing problems.

As religious practice has declined in the West, death seems to be increasingly difficult to address and confront. Making sense of ageing, sickness and death is rarely attempted in public debate, especially as euthanasia has gained ascendency.

Despite this, death re-emerges to challenge us: is this all there is? What have we done with our lives? Where are we going as individuals and a community? What are we going to make of our lives? How can we make sense of death and contingency (if at all)?

Fundamental existential questions and yearnings continually re-emerge; ones that we often repress or divert with distraction. Blaise Pascal remarked that humans spend much of their lives on diversions and distractions that take them away from the essentials, because to look is often too hard. And he said this before mass advertising, consumerism, television, the internet