Sunday, January 17, 2010

Layer 237 . . . The Meaning of Life

By tomorrow evening several more funerals will have moved through Torquay crematorium, and to the rest of the world nothing much will have changed. Life will go on much as before.

People will still be out walking in the winter sun on Torbay beaches; dogs will still go bounding after balls; children will still splash through pools on the undulating red sands.

Individual lives (and deaths) have very little significance unless they’re linked to other lives. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s like the individual atoms or even the cells within the human body, which on their own have no real meaning or significance. It’s only when they’re linked together harmoniously, communicating productively and positively, and working to some common purpose, that they take on any real importance or meaning.

A life well lived and a life that contributes in some way to other lives - that’s a life that’s worthy of remembrance and celebration. We remember those who not only create life but also help to sustain and enrich other lives, whether or not they’ve been involved in creation.

We might admire some of those who relentlessly pursue their own self-interests, and by so doing achieve material prosperity and possibly even celebrity. But do we celebrate their lives, or even remember them with any real affection? Not really. Not if they don’t simultaneously have a positive effect on the wellbeing of others.

Whereas the loss of those who shine light and warmth on others reduces the wellbeing of those others. A light goes out, a sun ceases to shine, and to some degree someone’s world becomes a darker and colder place.

We can live in the dark and the cold. We can survive. We can even prosper. But we remember the way it was when there was light, and warmth, and colour, and comfort.

And it reminds us of our responsibilities to be a source of light and warmth and comfort for others. And so we go on.

And as we continue to enjoy the light that shines from significant others in whose orbit we find ourselves, we provide light and warmth to those who orbit around us. Just as the Earth orbiting around the sun has its darkness illuminated by the light reflecting from the moon that orbits around the Earth.

We cannot thrive in isolation. We cannot exist in a vacuum; and there’s no point in existing in a vacuum.


Enough with the metaphors already.

At times like these it’s good that we have Ian Dury to listen to. Reasons to be Cheerful. I’m very glad the new film based on his life and work - Sex and Drugs and Rock N Roll - has had good reviews. The man was a genius. An explosion of light and warmth and energy, followed by a long slow burn from his throbbing nuclear heart. A true artist, if ever there was one. His life may be over, but his warmth, wit, energy and light live on in all his works. There ain’t half been some clever bastards - and he certainly was one.

I’m now considering “Fucking Ada” as the final piece of music at my own funeral. (I wonder what Ian had?) I’d like everyone to listen respectfully to the verses, and join in heartily with the choruses. The mad blasts of trumpet and saxophone in the instrumental break are perfect for reflecting on the real meaning of life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Layer 236 . . . Goodbyes

If we're fortunate to have parents who live to an old age then we probably start saying our goodbyes to them over a long period of time. We say good bye to the people we used to know each time they pass from one stage of life to another.

Late Old Age is when someone can no longer take care of themselves properly, and they need help with a growing number of mundane and everyday chores and responsibilities. This final stage of life is when people can no longer deal with responsibility, either for themselves or for anyone else. I remember my mother entering late old age around the age of 78, when she suddenly realised she'd become one of the “old people” she always felt so sorry for.

She couldn't accept becoming one of those frail figures who shuffle around with the aid of a stick, sit in the same chair for hours on end, for day after day, have little to say to anyone, have no-one or virtually no-one who cares to listen to them, and often can't remember what they wanted to say anyway. How she loved it when grandchildren and great grandchildren would pop in and chat and play. She also smiled at the eager friendliness and playfulness of their dogs, and willingly gave them the pats and strokes they demanded.

Old Age, or the penultimate stage of life, is what precedes Late Old Age. Old age, as far as mum was concerned, lasted from about 72 to 78. During that time she would still go out, still catch buses, still do her own shopping, still pay her own bills, still do her own cooking, still take a bath without help, still catch trains to distant places, still remember to transfer money between her pension account, her savings account and her current account.

The mum that I said goodbye to at the end of that stage was still in control of her life and still able to enjoy life. She still had much of her old confidence and determination, her self-reliance and her physical strength. It was a sad thing to say goodbye to that person.

Late Middle Age probably ran from around 60 to roughly 72. This was the first phase of retirement and of  living on a pension, when every day held promise and opportunity, and was for enjoyment and fulfillment. The grandchildren were still quite young and could be taken out and indulged. It was an age of still feeling needed, an age of still being of some use and some importance to other people. An age before weight loss and serious wrinkles and loss of vitality set in. It was a good age, and one that was hard to say goodbye to.

It was hard to say goodbye at the very end, as well. She was still my lovely old mum, a very dear and very lovable old woman. With a little help from others she still lived in her own home, still made herself (and me) cups of tea and slices of cake, still smoked her cigarettes and still watched her favourite TV programmes. She still came to the door to wave goodbye as I backed the car out of the drive when it was time for me to travel home, and still stood there waving when I drove off, thinking to myself that this could be the very last time I see her alive.