Currently listening to…
Hello loves. This has been my music mood lately. Either soothing baritone ballads or calming, angelic Celtic vocals. Maybe it’s the mass quarantine of the majority of the world’s cities due to the spread of COVID-19, and the loss of so many of our elders who are an irreplaceable link to our past. Or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been able to write for a fortnight. That alone always leaves me feeling out of balance and in a ‘mood’. But music to the rescue, and now I feel like writing again.
I’m trying not to take too hard the impending wave of sadness coming our way because the first thing I wanted to do was hug my mother when I heard that my country had recorded its first deaths from the virus a few days ago. Two may seem insignificant compared to the thousands recorded by other countries, but we’ve officially been scarred by SARS CoV-2 and there’s no turning back.
But I also went out to get groceries this week so in the back of my mind I’m also thinking, ‘should I hug her? What if I picked something up I don’t know about? I don’t want to put her at risk.
This is what happens. This is the state of mind that has slowly crept its way into our lives, and I hate it. My mother was seriously ill and hospitalized late last year. So other than being the single most heartbreaking time of my life having to walk around a house and not feel her presence there, I also don’t want her to have to experience something like that so soon again.
So sitting here, I decided to scrap what I was originally going to write about and talk about death instead, for obvious reasons, and because I need the therapy, and maybe you do too.
Because I have thought about it. Losing the people I love over this. And the current situation the world has found itself in means many people will be pondering this as well. But I found myself wondering when was the first time I had to seriously think about death and how I felt about it, and this phrase came to mind.
I do not believe that any man fears to be dead but only the stroke of death.
I remember these words vividly from my childhood. Back then, we didn’t have all the niceties and technologies of today, or even for that time when I think about it.
I believe I was maybe seven or eight. My mother had gotten a huge sheet, and allotted me and my sisters a portion each to create anything we wanted on it. We could paint, draw, do embroidery work, anything from pictures to words. It is one of my most memorable memories, a very Little Women type moment as our mother strived to keep us busy with the little we had.
Our mother helped and encouraged us to finish it. And when it was, she hung it up in the drawing-room.
Now the sheet had another purpose, as I later realised. It was actually a curtain to block off a red brick wall that to my mother was an eyesore against all the other walls in the house, and apparently could not be fixed at that time.
One of my older sisters embroidered that phrase I mentioned before on her section, and I pondered over it for many years after until the sheet came down. I didn’t know who said it at the time, but it stuck with me after all these decades. And by the time I thought to ask my sister she couldn’t remember where she’d heard it from either. So given the wonders of the internet, I just typed the words in one day and there it was. Francis Bacon, Of Death, an essay on death.
So I found myself reading his essay and it occurred to me that even at that age I understood what he meant, or rather what the single phrase meant, because his stuff is heavy, I won’t lie.
In any religion or non-religion, and whether you believe in heaven, ‘a far green country’ or a cycle of rebirth, life after death is depicted as not so bad. Unless you’re a serial killer or something, then your time after you depart probably won’t be as carefree as the rest of us. However death in itself isn’t really the issue in any culture or religion, as apparently, it’s all going to be a big ‘afterlife-party’ at the end.
The problem, like Francis Bacon mused, is the ‘stroke‘ of death, the how you will die, the moment of impact, the suffering and pain of it before ‘lights out‘ is what really troubles humankind.
And at eight, I got that and had an ‘aha‘ moment! It goes to show that children really are able to grasp deep, philosophical ideas – without parents staging it and putting it up on Facebook like, ‘look at how woke my kid is!‘
But you know… off-topic.
But yes, I still remember looking at my hands at that age and being in awe at what I was, this living, breathing flesh and blood being. I was very much acutely aware of my physical presence in the moment and the wonder of it, a feeling that I can sometimes get back fleetingly as an adult but have never fully felt again.
The thought of not being physically here was fascinating to me. What would it feel like to not physically be me? To not exist as I was in this time. How would it feel to look out from someone else’s eyes or just not be conscious anymore?
Most adults are too occupied with their own thoughts to appreciate the realness of their physical existence anymore. And partly, Francis Bacon’s essay on death is his own return to that quiet childlike awareness that requires your mind to be clear and less occupied with the world’s folly so you can really feel the realness of being alive. But the fact is that people only really pay attention to life until they’re faced with death, whether their own death or the death of a loved one.
The spread of COVID-19 around the world has put people between a cold rock and a very uncomfortable, hard place called isolation and quarantine. And this has nothing to do with not being able to go to parties, movies and having beach days. This is about being separated from their loved ones. Sometimes even while they live in the same house.
And what about people who have the virus or have loved ones in hospitals? Even normal patients are allowed visitors; are allowed to have family by their side comforting them should they slip away. But this virus has forced us to be cut-off from sick loved ones while dreading the news of their death or being isolated from your family dreading the news of your own death.
And this is the real brutality of this virus. It makes death that much harder to take because you must step over the threshold without saying any goodbyes. When I think of all the people in the last two weeks who have died alone in a hospital bed not having seen their family in weeks, who were probably completely unaware that they would never see them again, maybe regretting that they didn’t give them that last hug but still happy that they didn’t for their own sake, it is truly heartbreaking.
I don’t really care about conspiracy theories or the stock market. Let’s keep it human, please. It doesn’t matter where this virus came from. Economies can be rebuilt, but lives lost can’t return to us. What matters is the response to save as many lives as possible. I also don’t assume I can offer any comfort to those who are waiting to not hear the worst or already have. I am just here to wonder, like Francis Bacon, about death. And to hope that I can move towards whatever lies ahead with acceptance of it, not fear.
For we die daily; and as others have given place to us, so we must in the end give way to others – Francis Bacon
I will end this by making a simple request. Okay, a few.
This virus has given us many gifts as well.
Like the time we never thought we needed to spend with family.
The long-overdue rest we’ve needed from our jobs because we haven’t had a day off in years.
With less travel and fewer crowded cities, the air will definitely be cleaner after this.
People are finding new and innovative ways to make a human connection. Meeting people who were right under their noses all along but they only noticed now because of the quarantine. Creating meaningful interactions without physically touching, and the results have been so lovely.
Also, don’t underestimate your children. Give them the chance to read the big words. Teach them not to be intimidated by it. They understand a lot more than you give them credit for. Leave the teaching to teachers. This is time as parents to help build their philosophical, physical and creative intellects which is just as important.
I was in tune with Francis Bacon’s words at a young age. I understood it because my mother gave me the freedom to sit and ponder about it, and to seek the answers to questions she couldn’t answer. My ideas about life and death have stayed with me to this day, helping to contribute to my balance, to keep me level-headed in this crisis.
And though I battle between wondering whether I should hug my mother in case I may not have the chance to later, and knowing that not giving her that hug may just give her a chance later should I have anything – at least I’m not losing my mind over toilet paper.
Now, whenever I think of the first phrase by Francis Bacon I also think of another one that was embroidered with it.
Far happier are the dead, than those who look for death and fear it every day.
I assumed they were both by the same author but I can’t find this one in Francis Bacon’s work. So if it rings a bell… Shakespeare, the Bible, even, let me know. I would love to know where it came from.
– Written By Travesaou
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