I heard it in my Italian family, and in my Jewish family growing up in New York. And I've heard it in Los Angeles, or Hollywood as some would say, over the years that I've lived here. "Death comes in threes." "Watch," they'd say. "As soon as one famous person dies, two more will follow." And though I'm not superstitious, I must admit I've seen this "death comes in threes" often enough that it's really quite freaky... even scary.
Just this year (2006), Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein and spiritual leader Coretta Scott King died on the same day, January 30th. The great feminist Betty Friedan died a mere five days later on February 4th.
Also this year (2006), actors Dennis Weaver and Don Knotts died on February 24th, and actor Darren McGavin died the next day on February 25th. Not only did they all die a day apart, but all their first names began with the letter "D." Oooh... doubly scary!
In 2005, singer/actor John Raitt, free-spirit/raconteur Hunter S. Thompson, and actress Sandra Dee all passed away on the very same day, February 20th.
Often, the only similarity between the passing trio is that all were famous, making the date(s) of their deaths more notable and open to comparison. Just the same, there are myriad examples of "deaths come in threes" which convincingly underscore its premise.
Little in recent history advances the "death comes in threes" theory more than the deaths of the three famous men who've just passed: James Brown, Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein. Three major figures whose lives impacted the entire world, in different, yet significant ways.
Mr. James Brown, black-and-proud performer extraordinaire, died on December 25th. Former American President Gerald R. Ford, passed away on December 26th. Former Iraqi Dictator, Saddam Hussein, expired on December 30th.
Each man achieved enormous fame and power. President Ford through succession. Saddam Hussein through suppression. And Mr. Brown through expression. Ford and Hussein commanded a country. Mr. Brown commanded a culture. Each held center-stage for so long, I'm unable to expand on their bios, though volumes more would have been written on Saddam had he lived to reveal his full story.
Despite the enormous fame of this trio, when considering the atrocities of George W. Bush, the "deaths come in threes" maxim is rendered less than astounding. It is dwarfed by the ravages of Mr. Bush's War, whereby the "deaths come in threes" dictum is expanded to "deaths come in threes, plus three thousand." So along with the "three," Brown, Ford and Hussein, we add the "three thousandth" name:
SERGEANT EDWARD SHAFFER...
More precisely, twenty-three-year-old SERGEANT EDWARD SHAFFER of Mont Alto, Pennsylvania, who is the three-thousandth American military fatality to die in the War on Iraq since George W. Bush began it on March 20, 2003.
According to CNN, young Sergeant Shaffer "was wounded November 13, 2006 by a roadside bomb in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, where U.S. troops and insurgents trade fire on a near-daily basis. Shaffer was a member of the Army's First Armored Division, based in Friedberg, Germany. He died Wednesday at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, outside San Antonio..."
It is somehow fitting that the tragic death of young Sergeant Shaffer should take place in the very same state where George W. Bush is enjoying his New Year. Nothing interrupts the casual comfort of George W. Bush. Not planes hitting the World Trade Center. Not the pleas of Peace-Mom Cindy Sheehan for ten minutes of his time. Not the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Not the viewing of the casket of the thirty-eighth President of the United States which Mr. Bush won't see until he completes his vacation.
As I write this essay I think of young Sergeant Shaffer. I think of how much he would have enjoyed celebrating the New Year... for at the tender age of twenty-three, he hadn't celebrated many. I think of how young Sergeant Shaffer should be reveling with his buddies rather than awaiting his burial.
I think of Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez del Solar, Army Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, Pennsylvania National Guardsman Sherwood Baker, and the 2,995 other American military who won't celebrate this New Year. I think about the 22,000 American troops who've been seriously wounded in Mr. Bush's War. I think of the 650,000 dead Iraqis, and the over one million presumed injured Iraqis as a result of Mr. Bush's War. I think of their families and I think of their torment.
And I think of PEACE.
I think of how we should have had PEACE all along, and how eventually WE WILL HAVE PEACE.
And I think of Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld and the rest of their kabal awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court. And I look at the year 2007... not as a year of War, but as a year of PEACE.
PEACE with JUSTICE. Justice that punishes the perpetrators of War, and gives comfort to its victims.
Happy New Year, Mr. Bush!!