The ultimate robbery?

sheffield chesterfield hare 590It was going to be one of those conversations…

“… So what do you think happens then?”

“Nothing… non-existence.”

“So what is there to fear in that?”

“Well, I’ll stop existing!” he said, as if that should explain it.

“But if you don’t exist… you won’t exist to know about it. So why be afraid?” I watched the wheels turn, yet even in acceptance of the logic, there was a kickback of ‘yeah, but’. Myself, I am convinced of the survival of the spark of being… not necessarily the ‘me’ I know… perhaps more of ‘me’ than I know, yet not the ‘me’ who walks through life daily and looks out through brown eyes. Not the personality.

I have the best of both worlds, so to speak. If I am right, then there cannot be a reason to fear. If I am wrong, ‘I’ won’t exist to know about it… so there can be no reason to fear.

Dying, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Like most people, I worry about the manner in which the Reaper comes calling, even though, when he does, whatever means he imposes will,by definition, be finite.

In an ideal world I would die like my great-grandmother… in her own bed, surrounded by her family and fully aware of what was happening and how. But the world seldom delivers ideal situations and like most people the manner of transit sort of matters. Death itself, though, holds no terror…. no more than birth and just as inevitable, once the process of life incarnate has begun.

“It is dissolution you are afraid of?”

“Yep.” Now, you see, for me there is a subsuming into something greater than our individuality, a loss of the personal self, perhaps, but that personality is only a fragmentary reflection of what we are.

“Ego death.” My interlocutor bristled at that… the connotation of the word ‘ego’ raises spectres of selfishness, yet it should only raise the idea of self centred being. No, he wasn’t going to like that either. Let’s say, ‘a being who looks out at the world from its own central point of focus’ then.

He growled a disclaimer. Dissolution. The loss of who we see ourselves as being now… the only aspect of self we really feel we know. This is what most of us fear when we think of death rather than dying… and probably why we avoid the issue so much in our modern, egocentric society. We view death almost as the ultimate robbery, a violation of who we are.

It wasn’t always thus; once the dead were honoured and their transition seen as just another rite of passage. The bones of the ancestors were kept and venerated, the presence of their spirit welcomed at the hearth; their wisdom, gleaned over a lifetime and beyond, revered.

It is hard to get our heads around the concept of our own ‘not being’; the dissolution of our personality is quite literally unthinkable… how to imagine a state where thought, emotion… we…are not? There are many who attribute the belief in some kind of survival after death as simply a fear-reaction to that unimaginable oblivion. Yet for many of us there is a simple, inner certainty that there is more to it than that.

Yet does it truly matter? Whatever we believe… unless we believe in all the tortures of the various hells… there should be no need to fear. And regardless of what lies beyond the gates of life, we still have to live each day in the world as best we can. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what we will meet then, so much as it matters whether we have lived our lives as if they matter… because every single life does; in our uniqueness we shape the face of the world with every breath and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to make each breath count.

Stars

Image NASA

The cult of celebrity seems to have run mad over the past few years. Anyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame and if they can be sufficiently outrageous, outraged or enraging, may find themselves with a career in the limelight. At least for a little while. Some, however, have a real and enduring talent… and amongst those who touch the hearts and minds through music and the arts, some will find a lasting stardom.

Some notable stars died this week; the inimitable David Bowie, Alan Rickman, better known to a generation as Severus Snape and Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams fame. The world paid homage in recognition of the gifts they had brought to stage and screen and many have mourned their passing.

It is a strange relationship we have with those whose talents bring them fame. Sometimes, we almost think we know them, even though their personae change with every role… and none knew how to reinvent themselves better than Bowie. We do not know them, we see only those facets of the public and private faces they choose to show and the occasional and often misconstrued intrusions of the paparazzi. Like Severus Snape, they assume a public persona and live the visible part of their life to its rules, whilst beneath the mask they are as human as the rest of us, just as complex and contradictory, with the same human hopes and needs.

Yet for those of us who grew up watching their rise to stardom, the passing of such stars is often said to mark the end of an era… perhaps because it also marks the ticking clock of our own lives and realising our own mortality in theirs… the era we see ending includes our own youth.

Such public mourning, however, is not the same as the private grief felt by their friends and families… the people who knew and loved them, not as stars, but as friend, lover, child or parent. That is a grief we will all know and understand at some point in our lives… and every single time, it is different, raw and rending, even when it comes, as it sometimes does, with a gentle gratitude for an ending to pain.

Not all deaths are publicly mourned. There is little to see when an old man buries his wife and best friend of fifty years, or a daughter weeps in the silence of the night for her mother, or a child. Every day, across the world, this same scene is enacted by families over a hundred and fifty thousand times… and every day, twice that many babies are born. Of those, a mere handful will ever make a visible mark in the world, even fewer will find fame knocking at their door.

Most of us live and die in obscurity from the global perspective but to those close to us, our births, lives and deaths will always elicit deep emotions. To those with whom our lives entwine, we are more important than stardom; our talent for living and gift of love more valuable than fame. It is the small things of everyday life, the good and the bad, that will leave their footsteps in the sands of time. Not one of us, no matter how long or short our life, will fail to leave our mark in the world, written in the hearts and minds of those whose lives we touched in some way, great or small. History may be written about great events… but it is made by every one of us, every day.

We are links in an endless chain. Genetic research has, over the past few years, shown how closely related we all are, with family trees entwining their various branches throughout our history. Remove any link and the world as we know it could not be quite the same. Erase but one life from the course of history… your life or mine… and the future cannot be what it will be. Even those who have no children will affect future generations through the minutiae of their lives and interactions with others… perhaps bringing two people together. Maybe one of your descendants will finally cure cancer or craft the greatest story ever to be told. Perhaps your bloodline will reach the stars… Who knows? In that we are all equal…and all of equal importance to the world.

Even more than that, though, we are even closer than a genetic link. We are made of the same stuff as the stars… the same basic components that create every known thing in the universe; family in more than name. So it is right to take a moment to mourn the passing of those whose lives have touched our own in any way, great or small, near or far.

Look in his eyes and see your reflection
Look to the stars and see his eyes

David Bowie – Shadow Man