[This note is an update to this blog post: When I first published this, several people said that the lives of all of the victims matter equally and all are being mourned. That is exactly what I am arguing here. As I said at the end, “They were all important people, and they all will be missed.” The people who reached out to me also said that reporters should look into the lives of all the deceased. That, too, is a point I am making here, as, for example, in the paragraph toward the end about the story in the New York Times.]
In New York, 20 people were killed in a tragic limo crash. A lot of people first heard about it from the headlines they saw. In The Daily Beast, the headline said, “Newlywed Couple Among 20 Killed.” The New York Post singled out the newlyweds, too, and also added another category: “Newlywed couples, parents of young kids among victims in deadly limo crash.”
Sadly, this is a predictable ritual. If something bad happens to a lot of adults, and newlyweds were among them, then they are routinely singled out for our mourning, as if their lives were more valuable, and their deaths are more tragic, than everyone else’s. Same for parents, especially if their kids were young.
Are you thinking that there are other explanations for this, or that the lives of those people really were more valuable?
Perhaps the most compelling case can be made for the parents of young children. The loss to those kids will be devastating. But did the reporters who wrote these stories look deeply into the lives of all the people who died? Were any of the victims the sole care-takers for aging parents? Do we really know that the other people who died had no one in their lives who were depending on them and would be devastated by their passing?
Another possibility is that the newlyweds were singled out because they were presumably all excited about embarking on a life together, and that blissful future got caught tragically short when it had hardly even begun. Maybe. But what about all the other life events that the other victims may have been looking forward to? Were there people about to move into their first home, or start a fellowship they had always dreamed of, or who had just been accepted into a coveted sports team or dance troupe?
Another sort of dismissive reasoning that single people are accustomed to hearing is that they “don’t have anyone” whereas couples have each other, as do parents and their children. Again, that way of thinking marginalizes all the important people in the lives of singles who have no children. Why should a relationship with a close friend or a cherished relative or a teacher or mentor who changed your life be considered “less than”? Some of those relationships are just as close as many romantic relationships, only without the sexual component. Do couples get to be deemed more valuable than everyone else because they are presumably having sex with each other?
In deciding whose lives to celebrate, why don’t we consider criteria other than interpersonal ones? Who was working on an invention or a scientific discovery or a medical breakthrough that had the potential to improve the lives of other people? And who was living a good, meaningful life in all the small but significant ways that rarely get recognized?
I continued to monitor the headlines as more media outlets began to report the story. A few of them got it right. For example, “20 dead in crash of limo” does not suggest that any one life was more momentous than any other. The most recent headline to appear before I posted this was from the New York Times, “What we know about the 20 victims.” Turns out that their lives were not just about romantic partners or their own children. The article pointed to close friendships as well as sibling bonds (four of the victims were sisters from one family, two others were brothers from another). The reporters noted that the deceased included a schoolteacher, someone studying for a master’s degree in special education, and someone who worked in electronics.
They were all important people, and they all will be missed.