This past week three extraordinary people died: Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel, and Kim Jong-il. All three impacted the world and human rights, but in very different ways.
When any famous or, shall we also say, infamous people die, there are many news articles, opinion pieces, and blogs about them and their legacies. Some postings were laudatory, as in the case of Vaclav Havel, the enduring symbol of the Czech "Velvet Revolution" or what the Czechs' prefer, "the November events." Havel was an artist, a celebrated poet and playwright. But he was also a dissident who was deeply passionate about his homeland and the concept of democracy. After the Revolution, Havel was appointed President and returned Prague to its magnificence as the "Paris of the East."
Other articles were castigating: the demise of Kim Jong-il revealed the pathos of a country caught in the iron grip of oppressive dictatorship. A country where "the opium of the people" was the leader himself: worshipped and idolized. To observe the grief of the country over Kim's demise is like watching a slow-moving train wreck as people, young and old, collapse on the streets. A crumpled and lifeless country, devastated by the loss of a caricature of a leader. Truly, the antithesis of Havel - an AntiHavel - not embracing a nation but preserving it under glass as an ornament of the past.
Still other passages were quirky and colourful like the man whom they purported to describe: Christopher Hitchens, himself a demi-God (he would have hated that!) to the witty and smart set. But he was a scrappy fighter for the underdog and a true critic, or shall I say cynic, of the world. He was an observer, who also participated, and that made him the ultimate man of the post-modern era.
With all three men, we are faced to re-evaluate our own consciousness of being, our own concept of freedom, and our own mortality. Shall we think big and be like Havel: become a social activist and speak out for issues we hold dear? Or shall we look at the individual or micro-rights and change the world, one individual at a time. We definitely will not be Kim and rigidly adhere to a false construction of reality.
Whichever way we decide to "celebrate" these lives and their legacies, what is clear is this: they force us to make choices and to decide what we believe in and on which side we stand. But better yet, I say we think as Hitchens would have liked us to do and ask ourselves "is there really a side at all?"
Chalk one up for humanity in this week of reflection.