Who are we crying for?

I’ve been thinking about this question this past week…since Whitney Houston’s death. The type of music she sang is not my favorite–but she was a good singer.

But I’ve been thinking about a picture I’ve seen several times when famous people have died. It’s usually a picture of the individual on one side–and starving children on the other. The caption is usually split into two parts, one over each picture and usually reads something like “One person dies and millions cry; millions die and one person cries.”

I am not downplaying the tragedy of Houston’s death–or any other individual’s death. Her past battles with drug abuse are indeed tragic and affect many individuals, including her ex-husband and daughter.

What I do wonder about, though, is this: What makes one person’s death any more worthy of an outpouring of grief than the deaths of innocent children? Or anyone caught in the middle of violent conflict? or suicide? or death because they’ve been “thrown away?” or any of a number of other reasons…you can think of your own.

I was reminded yesterday of our seeming inbalance about who we consider important. NPR did several stories yesterday about the death of a gifted young foreign correspondent, Anthony Shadid. He felt it almost a calling to be  able to help us understand what is going on in different parts of the world we may never travel to–in his case, the Middle East. He was not an “adrenaline junkie”–he spent his time in one area, taking the best care he could but still–because of the violence in the area–putting his life in danger. His death, though, was not from a bullet. It was apparently from a severe asthma attack as he was covering what is happening in Syria–and he leaves a wife and two children.

But has his story gotten anywhere near the coverage of Whitney Houston’s death? No. I haven’t heard any mention of it anywhere on the national news…and yet, he was one who was trying to help us understand the issues that cause millions to die–and few of us cry.

So…who are we crying for? What do we cry for?