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.