The Indiscriminate Reaper

A spontaneous comment by my wife prompted this. We were watching TV coverage of the funeral of Wouter Weylandt, a professional cyclist who was killed in an accident in the Giro d’Italia earlier this month, when she remarked it was an awful, unjust death of a supremely fit athlete, 26 years old, whose partner is expecting a baby in September.

Wouter Weylandt

Wouter Weylandt

Wouter Weylandt
Weylandt, a Belgian national, raced for the Leopard Trek team. The third stage of the Giro included some frightening descents – poor road surface, steep inclines, sharp bends. As the bunch shot downhill at speeds of up to 80 kph, the cyclist lost control of his bike, and was thrown 10 metres into the road, landing on his head. Despite immediate attempts at resuscitation, it seems he died instantly from a combination of head and internal injuries. That happened on 9th. May.

Claude Choules

Claude Choules

Claude Choules
Four days earlier, Claude Choules passed away at the exceptional age of 110. The oldest known living man in Australia until that day, his legacy goes way beyond that fact. He was the last surviving combat veteran and seaman of the First World War, the last veteran to have served in both World Wars, and the last military witness of the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow on 21st. June, 1919.

Osama Bin Laden
And two days earlier, on 2nd. May, the entire world learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Terrorist, leader of Al Qaeda, shot while unarmed, by American special forces acting unilaterally in another country.

These three deaths have played on my mind extensively for the past couple of weeks, provoking a number of emotional reactions. In the first case, exactly as my wife said, the loss of a young man with everything in front of him, someone who knew the risks of his sport but who was careful and professional; whose death leaves a  young widow and – soon – a child who will never know his or her father.

As for Mr. Choules, who was also the seventh-oldest man in the world; to have survived the horrors of active service in two wars, to have worn military uniform for 41 years, and to close for ever our direct link with those significant events that shaped the entire history of the 20th. century. When he was born, in March 1901, Queen Victoria had died only 2 months earlier, to be succeeded by King Edward VII. Roosevelt became Vice-President, then President, of the USA. An assassination attempt on Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The vacuum cleaner was first patented, and the spiral hairpin invented. The first Nobel Prize ceremony was held, 5 years after the death of Alfred Nobel. The first British Navy submarine was launched. Toulouse-Lautrec and Giuseppe Verdi died. What incredible changes the man saw during his extended lifetime!

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

And what of the death of Bin Laden? For what he self-confessedly represented – the first reaction for many is obvious. But, equally, many intellectuals, lawyers, and those who stand up for human rights, have expressed their thoughts on the nature and morality of this man’s demise – a justified act within the rules of war? A summary execution, followed by a hurried, disrespectful burial? A safer world? Who gained what from this action?

Without being morbid, I’m still thinking about the range of emotions and more rational observations that these unrelated deaths have provoked in me. The totally unpredictable and indiscriminate Grim Reaper!

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