Saturday, 6 July 2013
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE LEAST IMPORTANT SUBJECT IN THE WORLD
Below these words is a picture of this post's topic.
Have you guessed what it is yet?
"But Ian," you say, "there's nothing there."
"I know," I reply. "It's death."
I've been thinking about death recently (and, let me state, this isn't a depressing or maudlin post), which isn't all that unusual for me but in this case was sparked by three things: my 65th birthday in four weeks time when I become entitled to the State Pension and, therefore, am officially an old man; the selfish refusal of the Mandela family to turn off the life support machine and let a noble man died with dignity; and reading Iain Banks final novel The Quarry which deals with the dying of a man in his early forties from inoperable cancer and the irony that shortly before finishing the novel, Banks discovered that he too was dying from inoperable cancer.
For some time in my early thirties I became obsessed with the thought of death.I would lie awake for hours agonising at the brutal fact of my extinction and an infinity of non-existence. (In case you aren't aware, I'm an atheist.), which is really quite stupid and I'll explain why shortly. Nevertheless, it happened and made me extremely unhappy. I went to see my gp who just brushed me off. Several years later after I'd changed my doctor I mentioned this phase to him and he told me it was probably angst (or some German word). Actually, he was wrong; I was suffering from full-blown depression which ultimately led me to several sessions with a psychiatrist, but by then I'd already begun to make changes in my life.
The Quarry isn't so much about death as it is about dying. The narrator is cancer-sufferer's 18 year old high functioning Asperger's suffering son. His father is taking T.S. Eliot's route -"Rage, rage, against the dying of the light."- which was pretty much my position and, like me, it doesn't do a bit of good, it just makes you very unhappy. (Aside: I was amused my lots of talk about religion -the young narrator, like his father, is an atheist- and reading anti-religious views which were identical to my own. Wish I'd met Banks.)
I'm now pretty much twice as old as I was back then and my life has changed considerably since those days of heavy smoking, heavy drinking, obsessed by writing, still living at home. And my views on many things have changed to varying degrees. Recently separated from my wife of nearly 25 years, I'm living on my own (plus cats, see cat blog) in a nice modest size house plus garden which I have pretty much the way I want it. My local government pension plus rent from a flat (and, yes, I pay tax on it; I've an accountant to prove it) provides me with enough for my modest needs, after basics are paid for, of books, CDs, DVDs and wine (£4-£5.00 a bottle). I'm active doing cat rescuing which brings me in contact with people, as well as regularly seeing a couple of old friends whom I selfishly hope don't die before me. I swim regularly. And I've found that I like living on my own. I even have a reasonable expectation, given my mother's family's longevity, of still being around for another quarter century, though there are no guarantees and I wouldn't put money on it. And if I go loopy like my late mother did, I'd rather not.
But in short, I have complete control of my life and I'm more content than I have ever been. At the age of sixty-four and fifteen sixteenths, I'm truly happy.
I haven't made my peace with death because I don't need to. I've come to understand that death doesn't exist. Death isn't a thing, it's an absence and it's the one thing in life which happens to us all. I'd rather it didn't, especially now when I'm loving my life. But it doesn't matter, I simply won't be there. It isn't an unending blackness, it's nothing at all. Nothing!
Death doesn't matter.
Only life matters and how you live it.
Me, I've had a pretty quiet and innocuous life. I've liked being a librarian because I like to help people, customer care as it's called these days, I carry this over in my dealings with people who want to or have to give up their cats and the people who want to adopt them. I'm pleased that I've had the flexibility to change my views over the years from middle of the road to libertarian left, though they've always been essentially humanitarian. I do confess to being intolerant of those who dislike or discriminate against others because the others are not like them (e.g. black, gay, woman, fat, red-haired, disabled, support Sunderland football team, etc). "We're all people. Why can't we just get along?"
I'm not claiming to be perfect here -just ask anyone who knows me- but I've reached a point where I'm comfortable with myself, warts, weaknesses, and all. Maybe it isn't death I've been afraid of all these years but life.
You know, I really was intending to write at modest length about death, but it seems to have gotten away from me. What the hell, it is what it is. Now it's tea time and I have cats and kittens to feed and -sniff, sniff- litter trays to empty. It's a hot sunny day. I'm going to have rice wrapped in vine leaves and anchovies, both from tins (Greek) which I bought in Lidl on Thursday, and then finish off watching the Continuum DVD box set. Ah, life doesn't get much better than this. (Winks.)