Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Death of Leaders

Christmas this year saw both George H.W. Bush and Nelson Mandela in hospital to treat the health complications that accompany old age. Eighty-eight and ninety-four years of age, respectively, Bush has come down with a troublesome fever and Madiba contracted a lung infection. None of the new sources of which I am aware have done much more than comment on the immediate causes of hospitalization. The fact that these sorts of things are to be expected as a person gets older is left out.

We are no longer supposed to believe in great men, who, according to some exceptional endowment, stand apart from the mass of humanity. For all intents and purposes, however, we still behave as if we do. The attention lavished on Mandela is not that hard to comprehend. His very public role in the downfall in apartheid in South Africa, in the defense of common human decency and dignity, is readily rewarded by placing in a special category of human being. The very public function of the U.S. Presidency also sets Bush apart, even if it is not as apparent why this should be the case. It seems, deep down in our bones, we will retain a sense of the divine sovereignty in the forms of authority with which we are familiar.

Our leaders must be deathless--that is, until they die, at which point we reflect on our own frail humanity reflected in the death of a leader. This is the only reason I can discern for why the most perceptive of reporters and news anchors fail to perceive the reality of death, fail to comment on it, fail to remind us of ubiquitous nature of the Great Equalizer. The best they seem to be able to do is express horror at the thought our leaders may one day go the way of all flesh, how sad their families will be, how sad we will will be to no longer be blessed by their munificent presence.

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