By Jim Towey
It has been almost a month since four members of the Dancing Grannies troupe in Milwaukee, Wisconsin went home to God during a performance at a parade in Waukesha. A child, age eight, also died from injuries he sustained. The women, ages 79, 71 and 52, had delighted audiences for years through their participation in this community tradition. In heartbreaking suddenness, by the murderous act of one man, their lives abruptly ended. May all those who died that day in Waukesha rest in peace, and may the 62 who were injured, including 17 children, fully recover.
It is a sad commentary that you likely haven’t heard much about the Dancing Grannies since the day of their deaths. But even if the mainstream media has moved on from this heartbreaking tragedy, we should not. The Dancing Grannies deserve to be remembered and honored for the beauty they brought to the world, and the lessons their lives taught us.
We are “Wired” for Life
Their lives challenge us to contemplate the sanctity of life and the value society places on every human being. If society does not hold human life sacred, then the fundamental right to life means nothing. We humans are wired for life. We naturally shrink from the horrors when life is cheap and dispensable.
Petty, cruel despots form an unbroken chain linking Nero two millennia ago to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Isis in modern times. And beyond government-sponsored killing is what takes place in American inner cities today with alarming regularity. Murder rates have soared and are breaking records. Children in Chicago are killed or injured by gun fire and the city is so numb to it, the mayor so completely inept in responding to it, that such random denigration of human life no longer even makes the evening news. Or look at the cheapening of human life as it played out in a high school in Oxford, Michigan where Ethan Crumbley was caught red-handed after he gunned down four classmates and wounded seven others. Their families and community mourn their loss.
The Dancing Grannies take us back to the first truth: the sanctity of life. Society breaks down when its members fail to uphold it and our system of criminal justice fails to respond unflinchingly when the innocent are killed.
Pain or Poison?
Last week there was a good bit of media coverage about the so-called “suicide pod” that is planned for use in Switzerland and is marketed by Exit International. It will allow individuals to activate the mechanisms that will remove oxygen from the chamber and lead to a quick suicide. Switzerland is one of the countries where assisted suicide is legal, and in the U.S., there are nine states that permit it as well. Aging with Dignity has been at the forefront for 25 years advocating for better end-of-life care and providing valuable services through its Five Wishes program. People deserve a better choice than pain or poison in their final days. Suicide isn’t the answer. If we see a guy on the 20th floor of a building, on a ledge, about to jump, we don’t instinctively respond, “Well, perhaps jumping is in that person’s best interests. Let him choose.” No, our urge is to talk the man down off the ledge. We have suicide prevention hot lines and ambulances that race through traffic with sirens blaring to try to preserve life. It seems to me that the suicide pod, while efficient, has the look of defeat. It is the purest form of social isolation imaginable.
The Dancing Grannies teach us about the joy of life. They testify to one of my favorite songs, “What a Wonderful World.” They celebrate the need each of us has to belong to one another. The Dancing Grannies were eager to give their gift. The ones who died made the world a better place before their lives were cut short. God bless those brave and beautiful women!