The walking dead…

We had been engaged in one of those long existential debates, discussing life, death and the possibilities of what might come before and after. The debate had gone on for some time, discussion had gone deep and we had covered some serious stuff, including the changing perspective of the years, fuelled by my impending birthday and the universal fragility of life.

“You should make a video,” said my son.

For a moment, I was flattered, feeling that perhaps I had acquitted myself so well that he saw my thoughts as worthy of being shared. But that moment was a fleeting one… he took out his phone.

“What, now?”

“Yeah.”

“But I’m a mess…” Vanity is universal when faced with a lens. Or that’s my excuse.

“Well, I’d rather you were sort of natural anyway…” It all clicked into place then. So much for flattery.

“You mean, for when I die?” My health may be a bit unstable at present, but I’m certainly not planning on dying at the moment. He had the decency to look a tad embarrassed.

“Well, yes… but don’t feel obliged to die anytime soon…”

“Thanks…”

“…I haven’t given you permission yet.” This is true. As he is both my son and my employer, such an extended leave of absence requires his approval and he has made his feelings quite clear on the matter.

By this time, the camera is running and I face the immortalising lens with no make-up, haystack hair and wearing my oldest clothes. We continue the debate, though in a far more lighthearted manner. Even so, it feels odd. Bad enough being recorded, which I dislike at the best of times, but to know you are being filmed as a memory for when you are dead is quite a strange feeling.

One of the things we had been discussing was the value of remembering that physical life is finite. It is a concept that must be taken from rather abstract idea we generally live with and transformed into a practical application. It is not a morbid or depressing perspective, as some might think, but is actually liberating as it shifts the focus from the transient to the eternal.

With a conscious awareness of the inevitable ending of this phase of existence, life and every experience in it, good or bad, takes on a new depth and richness. Nothing is to be missed through inattention, every experience is to be savoured and appreciated, because there is an awareness, a backdrop to living, that constantly reminds you that each moment could be the last.

And, as the camera captured our laughter, I was getting a graphic lesson in bringing that concept into reality.

It begs the question of how we want to be remembered when we are no longer in the world. Do we want to leave a mark on society? Be missed? Create immortality through art or a legacy of scientific thought? Maybe our immortality comes through our bloodline… our children and their children? Or perhaps we wish only to be remembered with a smile.

But why should we want to be remembered at all? Perhaps it is the fear of utter annihilation. Or simply the ego, the personality we wear in life, programmed for its own survival, that  seeks to perpetuate itself… and cannot accept that life as we know it can carry on without us? No matter how well-known or well loved we are, unless we do leave some kind of concrete legacy to posterity, in a few generations we will be no more than an entry in a ledger or database somewhere.  And even that will one day disappear.

Whether we believe there is no more than this physical existence, or in the survival of the soul, we cannot escape the cycle or the recycling of life.  One thing is certain, in the physical universe, nothing is ever utterly lost. From plankton to planets, everything that comes into being will evolve and come to an end. Its component parts will be returned to whence they arose and become the building blocks of something new. Personally, I believe that also holds true of the soul. We do not need to seek immortality. We carry eternity within us.

Lessons in chocolate

 

Yesterday, I ate very badly.  In fact, I would be hard pushed to find anything healthy in the entire menu. All day. Not that I ate all day, you understand… in fact I ate very little, but, I admit, a nutritionist would cringe. Croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast, coffee for lunch, a melted cheese crumpet for tea, wine and chocolates for dinner and coffee before bed. In fact, about the healthiest part of that lot was the glass of red wine.

I could blame my sons. It was, after all, all their doing;  one provided breakfast, even if he did send me to the supermarket to pick it up on my way to his home and demand to be served his share in bed…  He then turned up on my doorstep, hungry from a bike ride at teatime… This was just before his brother arrived with wine, flowers and chocolates. The wine, apparently, being good for the toothache he was suffering, needed to be opened and as you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach, the chocolates came in handy…

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The dog, of course, desperately wants to share, but what is a pleasure, if a rather naughty one, for me, would be toxic to her. My sons can, with impunity, eat anything. They share a metabolism a supermodel can only yearn for. They didn’t get it from me… I am of the type who can eat half a pound of food and put on five pounds in weight. So goodness knows what is going to happen by the time I finish the chocolates… and I’m working on that; valiantly disposing of them to remove myself and the dog from further temptation.Which is a tactic we often seem to employ to fool ourselves…

Let’s not look at calories and fat content… suffice it to say that each small chocolate contains the potential to add far more than its own weight to mine. Very like experience, in fact, where the smallest thing can potentially change a life, out of all proportion to its size… it all depends on the person who experiences it.

So Forrest Gump’s Mama may have had a point when she reportedly compared life to a box of chocolates; not because ‘you never know what you are going to get’, although that is true enough, but because what you do get will affect everyone in a completely different way. What may be a common and pleasurable experience… and sons, dog and I all like chocolate…some may enjoy with no problems, others may not have without putting themselves at considerable risk and some will suffer long-term consequences for their choice to indulge. The experience is unique to each of us. In general terms we may know that what, in small doses, can be good, is always a negative when it is too much … but how much is too much for each of us cannot necessarily be measured. Nor can another dictate or decide for us, though they may be able to guide. We alone must ultimately take the responsibility for our choice and be prepared to accept the consequences.

Of course, it isn’t always that simple. The dog, for example, doesn’t know that chocolate is toxic  to her. She sees only the lure of instant delight. If she ate just a little, it would probably do her no harm and enjoying it, she would want more… but overload is not too far away and could prove fatal. For me, overload to fatality is a long way away… I sincerely hope!…but each mouthful will add inches I will have to work to eradicate. My sons just enjoy the moment, but actually, though there are no visible and obvious consequences, do we really know what is happening in their bodies and what the longer term fallout might be? Or will they just use the energy of the sweetness to fuel, for example, the long cycle ride home?

Oddly enough, it is past experience that teaches us enough to make those decisions about the experience at hand. My waistline, for example, is at known risk from such indulgence. On the other hand, there is a willingness to accept that as a small price to pay in exchange for what is now a very rare pleasure… an evening enjoying the utter randomness of my sons when they are together and seeing a small dog in utter heaven at having both her boys at home. You could say the consequences to my waistline were a willing sacrifice to the greater good.