When Irony Is Not Funny – Thinking About Michael Schumacher
It is a familiar scene; it happens with regularity. I’m sure Michael is not the first nor will he be the last. The irony is so obvious it seems silly to even explain it. That being said I must explain it. I must state the obvious no matter how silly or in this case, tragic, it is. A Navy Seal comes home after four tours of duty in the Middle East only to fall down some stairs and break his neck. A BASE jumper gets run over by a car because he is looking at his cell phone. A professional stuntman or woman is out for a mountain hike, gets lost and succumbs to dehydration.
Michael Schumacher, likely the most accomplished racecar driver in the F1 world, while holidaying with his son was involved in a skiing accident right before the New Year. If the reports are to be believed it would appear this was not a high-speed accident. Nor was it during an off-mountain excursion in the untouched and virgin snow sought by extreme skiers, which would make sense with Schumacher, that this happened. It wasn’t extreme skiing. This happened in a little patch of snow with some rocks protruding between two runs on what looks to me like a medium difficulty part of the mountain at best.
Reports indicate that Schumacher was responding to a younger skier in his group who was in some difficulty and needed help. It was after this that the “freak accident” (the kind that is not supposed to happen, although one could make the argument that regular accidents by their very nature are not supposed to happen either) occurred. Schumacher proceeded to ski on, and then ran into a bit of powder and then hit a rock that catapulted him head first into another rock. Lastly, had he not been wearing a crash helmet (presumably he knows first hand how important they are) I very well could be writing a different kind of post according to his doctors.
Irony is supposed to be funny or at least thought provoking. Just ask Merriam-Webster:
The use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny, : a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.
My last good memory of Michael is of he, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen sharing a podium together in 2012 at the Grand Prix of Europe. You could not help but notice the mutual respect each had for the other two, and that is exactly what I have for the seven-time world champion. Michael had and still does have many fans. He also had and probably still does have some detractors, a side effect of being one of the most successful F1 drivers ever. Yet no matter which one of these groups you fall into, it must be said that we all recognize what he has accomplished and what he did for F1. His tenure in the sport was a game changer as the saying goes. Michael Schumacher is F1 personified.
During the last several days I and many more F1 fans are having a difficult time processing the fact that someone who contested over 200 Grand Prix, spanning 20+ years, driving cars which are not primarily designed to be safe, (although quite a bit has been done in this pursuit lately) but instead designed to travel as fast as physically possible without coming apart, risking life and limb weekly for the right to say “I came first” is now fighting for his life from what appears to be an insignificant skiing accident.
I’m struggling to clearly define why I feel so ill at ease about Schumacher having such a severe injury from something that is really just a holiday pastime. Obviously, it defies logic. Had this happened to a giant slalom downhill skier reaching speeds up to 80 miles an hour, well of course I would not give it a second thought. Had this been a young snowboarder on a huge half pipe attempting one of those impossible triple flippy cork-screwy things, well, what else can one expect? But Michael “tougher-than-nails, win-at-all-costs, don’t-get-in-my-way-I’m-coming-through-no-matter-what” Schumacher falling on the well-groomed easy part of the mountain? It just does not add up.
But going a little deeper than ‘it makes no sense’, I think I’m understanding that to watch heroes fall (sorry for the pun) whether it is a great sportsman or just a close sibling or friend as time or life or something else takes its toll is always going to be troubling and the more mundane or illogical the cause of their fall, the more troubling it will be. It is a scary and painful reminder that even our heroes are truly just frail human beings. That behind the grit, the will, the strength and determination is something that is not as unbreakable as we lead ourselves to believe. It is something much more fragile and in this discovery much more precious. Thus giving their accomplishments even more value.
But the true source of unease comes from the inevitable question: If a hero can be felled by something so illogical, so simple, so commonplace, what does that mean for us mortals? Yes, it is troubling to realize how our existence depends on the mercy, or even call it the whim, of the Universe, or Fate, or whatever God you believe in. Very troubling. That is what we are all confronted with alongside the Schumacher news.
I think it would be disingenuous if I did not disclose the fact that I was never really a Schumacher fan. That’s just the way it is in Formula 1. Some drivers we favor, some we don’t and the rest are not really even on the radar. As mentioned I have a huge amount of respect for Schumacher, what he has accomplished and how he single-handedly changed the sport, for the better I might add. But right now I can assure you I am among his biggest supporters for the race in which he currently fights. The one that is about the man, the father, the husband, the brother, the son. In short, the race to simply remain a human being on this planet.
I leave you with a quote from another blogger who sums up perfectly what we are all feeling.
Whilst an F1 driver he took determination to new levels and seemingly did not know how to lose. He was from the workmanlike mould of Lauda in many ways, a man who also had a life altering accident, albeit on-track, but had the determination to pull through and to win again.
Hopefully Schumacher has the will to do the same. Good Luck. – (Lisa Lewis- Survival Of The Fastest)
We’re all rooting for you Schumi.