Like so many others I was deeply touched and troubled by the recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. A supremely talented actor, he displayed a fascinating ability to reach down into the darker, deeply complicated nuances of human experience and bring them to life. “He will be greatly missed” is woefully inadequate for the reverberations his death has caused.
It is deeply troubling that someone with such talent and resources should be dead of drug addiction at age 46. That he leaves friends, family and three young children who cared about him adds to the weight of what is so wrong about this story.
But Philip’s death troubles me for another reason, too. It reminds me that all of us bear within ourselves the seeds of our own destruction—our own very unnecessary loss.
I have my own set of compulsive issues—different from Philip’s but no less threatening. Philip’s death reminds me that all of us, but especially we who are addicts, are just one set of poor decisions from losing our grip on reality. We are one set of bad choices from setting in motion a sequence which will unleash our powerlessness and take us out.
It’s a naturally human response to a situation like Philip’s death to evaluate and judge. Perhaps it’s a way of understanding how the darkness enveloped his soul; or a way of convincing ourselves we’re safe. It isn’t necessarily true, of course, but we look for what helps us cope with what we don’t understand, what we fear.
For some of us there seems to be a more perverse delight in finding blame in others. It’s a malignantly misguided effort to justify the righteousness of our own small lives. It’s a gross misuse of human intelligence and energy. It robs us of mental health and psychological wellbeing as much as addiction does.
It’s inappropriate for any of us to judge how Philip lived his life and how that life came to an end. That is his journey and he alone is responsible for it. But for those of us who love life, and appreciated Phillip’s, his death makes our souls long for a different outcome.
So what is a healthy, appropriate response to the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman? Grieve the loss of him. Celebrate the goodness of him. Care about those who were close to him. If we have the capability to comfort them, do that.
And look to the care of our own lives. What are our disabilities? Where are our blind spots? Who knows us well? With whom do we share our selves, our thoughts, our fears and our choices?
And if we’re addicts, be vigilant. We carry the well-developed seeds of our own destruction. Rigorous attention and cultivated support are what keep us alive and well.
May God have mercy and rest Philip’s soul. May God comfort Philip’s family and his friends. And may God guide and hold us all.