Distractions from the Ultimate Inevitability: another post on death and acceptance
Somebody for whom I had a great deal of affection and was something of an honorary aunt of mine died last week and, as always in these situations, I thought of my own mortality. That night I had perhaps the most startlingly real realisation of my young life that I would actually die some day.
Incidentally, with every key press I make with one finger, I’m having to suppress the urge of another three fingers from hitting the backspace key. I’m very aware that I’m giving you very little insight when I talk about these feelings, but what is most fascinating is how people respond to this self-evident fact. It has conjured up the most outrageous ideas, distractions, confabulations and counterintuitive notions, from religions to fandoms to New Age quackery. Anything to take our minds off that which is so fundamental and yet so inconceivable.
I’m currently watching Karl Pilkington speaking to a man who has absolutely convinced himself that he has discovered the secret of eternal youth, life and wellbeing. The kicker is that he is, in his own paradigm, the only man who has (and could) achieve this. There are, he says, certain laws whereby only one person can figure this out at a time. Similarly I was on the bus going through Stoke Newington earlier, which is in places a very Orthodox Jewish area, and was struck by the number of people for whom a great deal of their life is committed to what I privately see as little more than another, albeit elaborate, distraction from death. All these rituals and sacred texts and the strange relationship with hats and hairstyles and sex and women, all to achieve some kind of solace in the face of a great yawningly obvious inevitability.
To believe in an afterlife is ostensibly a surefire way of avoiding too much in the way of existential crises: all the answers are right there, ready-made, from thousands of years ago. Not only this, but they promise great immortal riches in the form of an eternal afterlife. On the face of it a pretty good technique. It does however turn a bit sour when it ruins lives, squashes free thought and intellectual advancement, hides potentially valuable truths, causes irreparable damage physically and emotionally, and all those other human responses to it, but you know, quite good in theory (I’ve spoken in an earlier post about the importance of not ridiculing individual belief, on the grounds that it is simply not your business and that doing so makes you Percy Wetmore from The Green Mile (see post ‘Thoughts of a Dying Atheist’), so I’ll desist here).
But who am I to take such a highly smug stance? I, an avid supporter of Manchester United, who takes pride in his country of birth and is nigh-on addicted to watching Pointless? The only difference in my distractions of choice is that they don’t purport to give any answers. What they do however is keep that voice out of my head saying ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘seriously, why the fuck am I here?’. I don’t mean that without them I’d be as moody and depressive as those two statements suggest, but rather that these outlets manage to control the complete absurdity of my situation. That situation being the same as anybody else who ever lived: I have no idea what it’s all about and have never been given a satisfactory explanation because nobody can actually know right now.
I understand that a lot of this makes me sound like some kind of 14-year-old pseud, the one who looks around at people going about their lives and thinks he is the only one thinking about this sort of thing. Well, this is my blog in which to shout my pseudo-deep thoughts and I’m going to use it. I’m not going to talk about this stuff to my friends, not sober at any rate, and I certainly can’t bare to keep it inside. Fortunately, I’ve been given an excellent book (or which seems excellent, I’ve not read it yet) for my birthday, entitled ‘How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer’. Maybe by the time I next post something I’ll have it all figured out and if so I will, of course, let you know. In the meantime, I’m sorry and thank you.