I just read that Steve Irwin, the Australian crocodile hunter, got killed by a stingray while he was filming a documentary off the Great Barrier Reef. Famous people die every day, but for some reason this death really saddened me.
For the benefit of those who never tuned into the Discovery Channel, Steve Irwin was a wildly exuberant environmentalist who made himself famous by going eyeball to eyeball with poisonous snakes and crocodiles. His trademark expression, which he delivered with bug-eyed wonder, was "Crikey"
The term is the Ozzie equivalent of "holy crap!" Believe me, if Shakespeare had ever met the crocodile hunter, "Crikey!" would be in every one of his plays,
Crikey, as when Horatio sees Hamlet's ghost for the first time: "Crikey! It harrows me with fear, and wonder."
So why did the crocodile hunter's death affect me so? Perhaps because chronic low-grade depression has been a constant all my life. My illness means I can never take joy for granted. For me it's a precious commodity. Steve Irwin, by contrast, always expressed a lust for life that couldn't be faked.
It was like the Wright Brothers watching birds in flight. Because flight was possible, they knew that working on a flying machine wasn't such a crazy idea. To me, people like Steve Irwin are those birds in flight. Joy is possible. I don't have to always be depressed. Even when I can't get off the ground I can still gaze skyward and dream.
If it weren't for the Steve Irwins of the world, I probably would have given up years ago. There is a part of me that I used to call "inner tap dancer." If I could get in touch with this inner tap dancer, I knew, I would be able to get through the day, perhaps even enjoy the day. Now I will refer to this part of me as my inner Steve Irwin or my inner crocodile hunter.
I never envied people like Steve Irwin. Okay, maybe just a little bit. No, instead I was grateful. Their joy is infectious. They possess the rare gift of lighting me up. It was just a matter of me connecting my psychic USB cable into their limitless power supply. Then I would somehow be okay.
All that life force, all that enthusiasm, all that gusto, all that energy. All those things I don't have, that don't come naturally to me. Yes, I know Steve Irwin lived dangerously, but every Crikey! he uttered in the face of the crocodile jaws of death only enhanced his aura of invincibility and immortality.
All that life force - gone. Just like that. Gone in the fickle snap of a stingray's tail to the heart.