HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
September 18, 2006, Herald Journal

Croc hunter was a lucky man


What can people living in rural Minnesota learn from a guy who spent his life in the Australian outback?

Quite a lot, actually.

Steve Irwin was a lucky man.

People around the world have mourned the recent death of Australia’s “Crocodile Hunter,” and many have commented on the exceptional bad luck surrounding his demise.

One must concede that, on that particular day, he was a bit unlucky.

The fact that he was killed by a stingray while swimming over the Great Barrier Reef, is evidence of this.

These creatures are generally considered docile, and, in the rare instances that humans are injured by stingrays, it is usually the result of people unwittingly treading on them as they rest on the ocean floor.

These attacks are defensive, rather than aggressive, in nature.

There are some discrepancies in the numbers, but reports suggest that there have only been two fatalities in Australia, and perhaps 20 worldwide, as the result of stingray attacks.

The odds were clearly against Irwin’s being killed by a stringray when he set out to film a new television series (titled “The Ocean’s Deadliest”) that morning.

While it must be conceded that his luck on that particular day was less than good, he was, on the whole, a very lucky man.

He spent his entire life interacting with dangerous creatures, and he clearly understood the risks.

The way that he lived his life provides a lesson for all of us.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon common sense and begin putting ourselves in dangerous situations just for the sake of taking risks. We each need to find our own path.

Irwin died without regrets.

No doubt he would have liked to be around to watch his two children grow up, and at age 44, there were probably a few things he still wanted to do before cashing in his chips.

But, he spent his life doing what he loved.

He was passionate about his work, and he spent his days outdoors interacting with animals.

This was what brought him worldwide fame.

People who watched his shows on television picked up on his unbridled enthusiasm, and his absolute love of what he did.

Many of the people who watched those shows will never come within 100 miles of a crocodile, or the kinds of poisonous snakes and spiders that he worked with.

But somehow, he made a connection with these people.

He may have been crazy.

His life was not without controversy, and there was clearly an element of drama, and of pushing the envelope in his productions.

But it wasn’t just for show. His enthusiasm was genuine.

And, it is unlikely that so many people would have tuned in to watch him talk about wildlife from a “safe” distance. It was the intimacy with nature that set Irwin apart.

He lived life on his terms, the only way he could live.

Some critics say that his recklessness was a disservice to the wife and children he left behind.

But, it could be argued that a life of playing it safe was not an option for Irwin.

It is possible that a more sedate lifestyle would have killed a man with his adventurous spirit more quickly than any of the dangerous animals with which he worked could.

The most important lesson that we can learn from Irwin is not about animals or the environment, it is about passion.

Whether we live in the Australian outback, or New York City, or a small town in Minnesota, there are things that are important to each of us.

We need to find those things, and embrace them.

A life, even a short life, that is complete and lived to the fullest, has got to be better than one that is long, but empty.

There are no guarantees for any of us. There is no way for us to know what tomorrow will bring, but we can be sure that excuses will not give us satisfaction.

Life involves risks. But if we attack every day as if it were our last, we can wring every ounce of living out of the time we have.

We don’t need to wrestle crocodiles or tangle with poisonous snakes to live a full life. But, we do need to figure out what is important to us, and we need to start now.

Tomorrow may be too late.

Steve Irwin understood that. This knowledge allowed him to get the most out of his life, and made him a lucky man. His example is something we can all learn from, no matter where we live.