I was at a convenience store today where a newspaper rack of papers bore headlines about the overdose death of great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. I couldn’t help notice an ironic juxtaposition: Not five feet away were racks of drug paraphernalia, bongs, papers, scales for weighing dope, etc. Behind were columns of cigarettes, which I wager kill a lot more people than drug overdoses. And of course, rows of high-calorie, additive-thick “food” that helps keeps us one of the fattest nations on earth, obesity being a major killer as well. Nearby was a table of madly scratching lottery ticket players, lit by the eerie glow of a Keno screen, the sights and sounds of vain hope. In short, a store legally selling all manner of addiction. I’m not condemning it, merely making note.
I mourn Hoffman’s passing, he was truly gifted, his light burning brightly and then tragically snuffed out, albeit by his own hand. He was rich, brilliant, had it all. But I’ve known addiction in one closest to me who isn’t rich, who doesn’t have it all. I am 60, have a son, 25, who’s fought his own battles with addiction and when I see stories like Hoffman’s, young, potential-filled people who let their inner torment wrest control of their lives from them, it tears my heart out, as, I suspect, it does any parent. When our children hurt, we hurt.
Addiction is not a disease of those with or without money, it’s a disease of whatever demons within us compel us to do harm to ourselves. A famous actor’s bottom-line story of his death is the same as a homeless man dying in the cold of an abandoned building. They lost the fight they’d been waging within, and the commonality of that is altogether familiar and chilling.
I don’t know what to make of Hoffman’s loss, and the loss of whatever impact he had on those of us who appreciated his talent. Life will go on, for us, for the mourning children and friends he left behind, and his story will soon be lost in the shuffle of countless others. Maybe we’ll learn from it. Maybe we won’t. But surely we should.