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I heard it all the time. There he was on TV, wrestling alligators, wrangling snakes, running around with lions, and tigers, and bears – oh my, he must be nuts. When the Crocodile Hunter died of a stingray wound, I was shocked, but not surprised. He’d made a name for himself doing insane things, after all. Within minutes of hearing the news I was telling people: “Well, now the cheap jokes and controversy start.”

Sure enough, within hours some people were poking fun at Irwin’s passing, some were saying he had it coming, and some were calling for the heads of the people in the first two groups. Some said he was a conservationist and environmentalist. After all, if dangerous wild animals died off, he was out of a job.
Others pointed out he seemed to go out of his way to antagonize the very animals he was bringing to public attention. “Today we’re going to walk over this croc’s tail and pick up a couple of its babies – crikey! That was close – mamma’s cranky.”
Ironically, witnesses say he wasn’t bothering the normally docile stingray when it suddenly pierced his heart with its poisoned barb. Irwin wasn’t supposed to even be there that day – his planned filming, for a special about dangerous animals, had been postponed because of weather conditions.

So he missed the dangerous animal hunt and instead got nailed by an aquatic beastie that usually doesn’t hurt you unless you happen to step on it. There’s some irony.

But that doesn’t answer the question: Was he nuts?

Well, he did crazy things, and sometimes he made huge mistakes, such as the infamous moment when he played tag with a crocodile while holding his infant son. He’s been bitten in the face by snakes and had his hand inside crocodile mouths. Certainly the evidence seems to weigh against his sanity.

But what was the hallmark of all his appearances on television? His trademark enthusiasm, his energy, his untiring devotion to his work. Call him whatever you want, but there’s no doubt Steve Irwin loved his job and his life.

What’s so crazy about that? How many people do you know who never take a chance, but who are miserable every step they take in life? Who’s the lunatic?

Have you ever heard a stuntman say, “Jeez, I hate this job … I can’t wait to go to
work in an office.”

Have you ever seen an astronaut who yearns for a sales position?

What caused all the upper class rich types, who could have wiled away their lives in the comfort of their studies, to go traipsing off into the Amazon, or the deserts of Africa? For most of them, it wasn’t a need for riches.

What makes a circus performer head out over that high-wire? Why does a test pilot work so hard for his wings? What made perfectly normal people plant a flag at the frozen poles, or climb painfully into the rarified air of Mount Everest?

“We made it, fantastic! Okay. Well … let’s go back, now.”

Those people loved what they were doing. They didn’t work to make a paycheck; they did it because they wanted to. We should all be so crazy.

Early in my career as a volunteer firefighter, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get on a career department. I could have made more money as an office manager – or a secretary, for that matter. Any number of jobs that pay better than firefighting, but don’t involve going out into the weather or staying up all night, not to mention the whole crawling through a burning building thing.

On a less dangerous but just as crazy note, my eventual goal is to be a full time fiction writer. That’s a terrible job – the pay’s spotty at best, there are no benefits, it’s a lonely task that usually results in obscurity, and the number of people who actually read seems to drop more every year.

I love it.

It may not be as dangerous as anything Irwin did – although I have managed to get one or two people mad enough to shove a stinger into my heart – but it’s insane to try to succeed as a writer. So, why do it? Because it makes me happy. If I don’t have a writing project to work on, I go – well, maybe insane isn’t the right word. After all, being a writer is crazy by definition.

Or is it? Is it so crazy, to love doing something so much that you’re happy with your job? That’s an unbelievable concept, to many poor souls.

Which brings me back to Steve Irwin.

Irwin said once that if he should ever be killed on the job, he hoped his crew got it on film. He didn’t say he wanted to go that way, mind you – nobody who loves what they do really wants to go. As the old joke goes, nobody wants their work to make them immortal – they want to be immortal by not dying. Me, I don’t want to die until after Guinness Book of World Records declares me the world’s oldest man.

I think the point he was making was that he wanted his life to mean something, and that he wanted to keep doing that meaningful thing until his dying day. He got his wish.

There’s nothing crazy about that.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 8th, 2006 06:37 am (UTC)
I agree.

On the radio station I listen to in the morning the DJ is renown for his biting sense of humour and love of the ridiculous. He went up in my estimation the day after Steve Irwin's death when he told people not to text in the (inevitable) sick jokes about his death because he wouldn't read them out.

He said that it was easy to mock the dead, and at the end of the day you had to remember that Irwin had left behind a wife and young family (the DJ's children aren't much older that Irwin's are).

It is easy to mock someone and after they're dead there's no come-back. I didn't watch Steve Irwin's shows - I didn't like the risks he took and he irritated me. BUT you can't say he wasn't enthusiastic about his job - and he encouraged a large number of people to think about the environment and conservation. All good stuff.
Sep. 8th, 2006 09:03 am (UTC)
I found Irwin rather irritating too, kind of in the same way I found Barney the Dinosaur irritating -- way too over the top. But in both cases, it worked for the target audience, and in both cases we're talking about people who loved their jobs so much, it's hard to tell whether we were irritated or jealous. (At least, I *assume* there was a person inside the Barney costume.)

For someone like that DJ, who makes his living making fun of people, to tone it down showed a lot of class.
Sep. 8th, 2006 07:12 am (UTC)
Very well said!

I'll admit it... the man annoyed me with the way he carried on, and the way he talked - which seems to have made the rest of the world think that ALL Australians talk like that *shudder* - but when it comes down to it he DID do a lot of good. His wildlife park is just 20 mins up the road from me and he's done a fabulous job with it, he's brought an awareness of nature and conservation to many, even if he did go about it in an unorthadox manner, and at the end of the day he was (by all accounts) a good, caring and enthusiastic man who loved life, his family and nature. May he rest in peace.
Sep. 8th, 2006 09:08 am (UTC)
That's pretty much the way I feel. It seemed to me that he antagonized some of the animals, but when you weigh that against the wildlife park, and the attention he brought to conservation, he did a lot more good than harm.

Thank you for confirming not all Australians talk like that, by the way.
Sep. 8th, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
Irwin was regarded as a bit of an idiot in his homeland. While I admire his enthusiasm and his passion for conservation, the man continuously put himself and his crew in danger and his passing on the job was pretty much expected. We just expected it would be a crocodile or shark that got him.

While stingrays are normally placid (don't mess with numb rays, they'll go you, but that's another story) another local wildlife documentary maker had a close encounter of a similar kind with a stingray in the same area. He assumed later that bull sharks ate the rays and the ray, thinking the human above it was a shark, retaliated and got the hell out of Dodge. So this is known behaviour that Irwin didn't research or ignored. Why am I not surprised?
Sep. 8th, 2006 09:05 am (UTC)
I always figured it would be a croc or a snake. I didn't watch his show very often, so I didn't realize he spent much time in the water, other than splashing around on the shoreline.
Sep. 8th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
We should all be so crazy.
Hear, hear. Inspiring stuff.
*raises glass to Steve Irwin*
Sep. 8th, 2006 09:10 am (UTC)
*hoists a can of Mountain Dew* I was trying to make up for my last column, which got kind of a cold response from my flist and shall forthwith be ignored.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2006 09:12 am (UTC)
That's the worst part of it -- those poor kids losing their father. I'm guessing that he took steps to make sure they'd be well taken care of in case of something like this, though that doesn't make up for the loss.

I like down to earth. I'd rather drink beer with Steve Irwin than dine with the Queen -- and I don't even *drink* beer.
Sep. 8th, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we should all be so crazy.

I did think he pulled some crazy stunts and I've been know to throw off a casual criticism of him when he was alive but when he died, the first* thing I thought was "at least he died doing what he loved". Most of us will not, probably, be able to say that in the end.

*Actually, my first thought before hearing the details was "did he finally get eaten by a crocodile?", because I always figured it'd be an angry croc who got him.
Sep. 8th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)
I'm sure everybody thought a crocodile would get him -- I know I did. Although, right after the thing with his holding the baby while baiting the croc, I thought maybe his wife would be the one to take him out.

I plan to absolutely die doing what I love; I just don't know her name yet.
Sep. 13th, 2006 12:29 am (UTC)
I plan to absolutely die doing what I love; I just don't know her name yet.

Now that's the way to go!
Sep. 13th, 2006 06:53 am (UTC)
"That's the way to go"
And come.
Sep. 9th, 2006 01:20 am (UTC)
How many people do you know who never take a chance, but who are miserable every step they take in life? Who’s the lunatic?

Sep. 9th, 2006 09:18 am (UTC)

And I'm pushed yet another step closer to abandoning a lot of my other tasks and spending every spare moment on my Great American Novel.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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