I still remember where I was when I heard that Princess Diana was dead. And I think I shall forever remember the moment I heard the sad and shocking news about Steve Irwin’s tragic death.
There are moments in life when time stops still temporarily and the busy buzz of the background noise, which normally fills our every waking moment, dims to a gentle murmur. This was one of those times.
I received seven different emails from friends within an hour, as they independently emailed me with the news. I jumped on to the internet, searching inundated news sites. I tried, in vain, to get onto the Australia Zoo website, which was obviously overwhelmed with Internet traffic.
Australia, and a good part of the global community, was both shocked and deeply saddened. Incredible scenes soon followed of crowds going to the Irwin’s Australia Zoo and leaving flowers, notes and mementos. We witnessed grown men and women grief-stricken as they visited what had become a shrine to a man they never personally knew. Steve’s death seems to have affected us deeply.
It’s partly, of course, because we think of Terri, his wife, and his two young children, Bindi and Bob. It’s always hard for a family to lose a loving father, but particularly so for a young family. Yet there seems to be something deeper. Steve’s death has brought a palpable grief to our community in a way that I haven’t seen for a long time. We seem to be grieving for more than a man.
As the profile of “The Crocodile Hunter” grew, Australians embraced him in such a way that he became a part of our cultural identity. We loved Steve, not just for his concern for nature and wildlife, but for the other values he embodied that we admired. While we may not have recognised it at the time, he was teaching us about life.
Steve was a man who lived with passion, and lived life to the full. In our busy, modern, world, we often find we’re being pulled in many directions and can find it difficult to be fully present in a moment. We looked on Steve almost with envy at his ability to be so wholly involved in whatever he was doing at the time – whether it was with his children, or out in the wild, or at his beloved zoo. In an age of cynicism and weariness of soul, here was a man who modelled what it was to live differently, and he awakened in us a hunger for that within our own lives.
Steve Irwin also lived for a cause bigger than himself. He and Terri’s incredibly impressive track record of nature conservation, at a personal financial cost, spoke to us of people who gave much more than lip-service, or token concern, for the things they believed were important. It’s a message that stands distinct from so many of the other messages we hear each day. The anthems of our society generally have more to do with being individualistic and self-centred, and are driven by consumerism most of the time. We soon learn that life is about us, and what we can get. Is it any wonder then, that Steve’s life message stood out in such contrast, and captivated a nation?
As we discuss what would be a fitting memorial to Steve Irwin, perhaps we should also spend some time on personal reflection. What was it about his life that resonated so deeply with us, and how can we embody that in some small way? Perhaps in the end, a community of people who live more passionately, and more selflessly, would be the most meaningful tribute of all.
We miss you Steve Irwin. May you rest in peace.