Like most Americans, I felt a wave of shock and disbelief yesterday when I saw flashing upon the screen the news that Heath Ledger was dead. Immediately, my heart sank. When a person of such talent who is so young dies, the injustice and unfairness seems intolerable. But there is a deeper meaning in Heath Ledger's death for me.
The first movie I ever saw of Heath's was "A Knight's Tale." Ok, so it was an unlikely and campy tale, not cinematic history. However, he was a standout, and not just because of his good looks. There was something compelling about his presence on screen that made you care about his character, and ultimately, care about Heath as a person and an actor. Commentators have been citing his own loneliness and the vulnerability which seemed to seep from his very pores as the thing that enabled fans to identify so deeply with him. After all, isn't there a bit of loneliness in each one of us?
However, for me, I felt there was something that I identified with that was infinitely deeper, much like my appreciation for Jimmy Stewart. I think there is something deeply compelling about being an ultimately flawed person who strives to do the right thing in life in spite of personal failings and struggles. It was this that I identified with most in Heath Ledger. As a person who has experienced deep struggles all her life, I can understand the impulse to take too many sleeping pills hoping for just one night of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. As I sat watching Heath's body being wheeled out on a stretcher, I could only think, "There but for the grace of God go I."
I mourn the loss of Heath Ledger not just because he was talented, not just because he left behind a young daughter who will never experience what an amazing father she had, and not just because of what the cinematic world lost. I mourn him because of the future roles we will never see that would have touched us all, made us think about the meaning of our own lives. I mourn him because he was a beautiful human being that struggled against a darkness that ultimately took him away from us. And I mourn him because it is that very darkness that chases me.
What I take away from his death is another look at my own pitiful life. I took sleeping pills just last night. What if I had never awakened to my alarm clock this morning? What would I have left behind? The answer, sadly enough, amounts to a few minor accomplishments and a mountain of regrets. I can only pray that Heath would not have said the same thing.
The mystery of our identities lies in an often impaired self evaluation, our own version of who we are and what we have meant to the world around us. Heath's life touched millions of lives and left an imprint that made us all feel more human. In my own evaluation of my life, I know I have a long way to go to bringing meaning to those in my life whom I love, much less the world at large.
And it is this ultimately that I mourn; my own lost opportunities to touch others and make their lives more meaningful. And I think it is this that makes Heath's death so poignant for me. I don't want to die leaving behind a legacy of regret and lost opportunities. Oh, but where to begin? When your world is out of alignment and there is so much that needs correcting, where, oh where on earth do you begin?