When Philip Seymour Hoffman jabbed that needle into his arm for the last time, he triggered a myriad of news stories and public displays of grief and adoration. He was a talented actor who reached the pinnacle of his profession when received an Oscar for his performance in the film, Capote.
There is much we can learn from these recent events in one of the high end neighborhoods of New York City. Among them is that the notoriety of his death does not make it any more tragic than if he had been an unknown teenager seduced by the momentary euphoria of a drug induced high. Here was a man at the top of his profession, yet there was obviously something amiss in his life that drove him to his path down the road of chemical escapism.
As one who probably has seen his work, but has no lasting recollection of witnessing it, I can’t say I felt the sense of loss as when Elvis Press, John Belushi or even Nick Adams left us. I must also confess that I am much more disturbed by the flag draped coffins coming back from the middle east than I am about the passing of an over-privileged member of the Hollywood elite. Hoffman was, after all, an actor who made his living pretending to be someone he was not. However, he was a fellow human being, created to do wonderful and amazing things. In this, I feel the same sense of loss I would feel for anyone who leaves us at an early age… particularly as a result of bad decisions.
I would not condemn him as just a moral or spiritual weakling as we are all weak in one area or another. One headline called it a “fatal relapse”. Unfortunately, he is not alone in his inability to conquer a destructive habit, or inner demon, once it has begun to control his life. I am reminded of a young man I met many years ago. I will call him Eddie – not his real name.
Eddie had a nasty drug habit. Yet he managed to break away from the drug culture. He even worked with the young people at the church I attended. He spread the word to anyone who would listen about the evils of recreational pharmaceuticals and the short and long term harm they inflicted on unsuspecting teenagers. The local dealers hated him for discouraging their potential customers. One Saturday night, even though he knew better, Eddie had to go back for one more hit.
That Sunday morning, the Pastor called those of us on the church board into his office to tell us the sad news that Eddie was dead. The dealers had gotten their revenge. He would no longer dissuade unsuspecting teenagers from falling into the seductive clutches of the chemically induced high. The young man just could not break free completely from his deadly addiction and it cost him his life.
While it is true that no one held a gun to Hoffman’s head to take that first hit, and no one did that to Eddie either. They, like all of us, were free moral agents. They made bad decisions – costly bad decisions. The libertarian side of me says that decision making is a part of life and they can be great decisions, horrible decisions, or decisions that fall somewhere in between.
So much of today’s world is wrapped up in the desire to avoid the consequences of bad decisions. However this pursuit can only take us so far. Sooner or later the paths we chose in life will lead us to our ultimate destination, be it good, or not so good.
Those who consider themselves enlightened fail to recognize the dreadful price we pay for our drug induced escape from reality. They are much like the mad man who denies the existence of gravity as he steps off the roof of a building. Both will, sooner or later, have a sudden and unpleasant impact with the real world. While many of our political leaders only recognize our right to chose in one or two areas of our lives, making choices is what life is all about. Many celebrate formerly taboo sexual activities and others cheer the murder of their offspring. Many will, one day, come to see what their rejection of the values that made this country work are a far better way of meeting their needs and securing their safety.
Our libertarian friends are correct that legislation will not make people want to live lives free of drug induced misbehavior, however, we are a nation and a society that is defined by what we approve of and disapprove of. It is like William F. Buckley said of the pornography industry – we may not get rid of it, but really should not make it an honorable profession.
Freedom can be a dangerous thing! How many lives come to an untimely end in pursuit of one more high or one more escape from reality? Even if the laws were changed to make such behavior “legal”, would it really be a good idea?