INTO THE BLUE: THOUGHTS ON LIVING AND DYING

CROSSM

CROSS

On the cliffs there is a cross. It is iron, maybe once it was painted black but now it’s the colour of raw umber. It is set into a smooth, rectangular, grey stone which is engraved with the name and age of a boy who died here over 30 years ago at the age of 14. Last week as I was sitting nearby watching for whales with the sea and the sky spreading south at my feet my thoughts wandered to the boy again.

I imagined him to be like many 14-year-old boys as he crossed the fields on that long ago April day, full of laughter and trouble and fun and confusion and angst and possibility before that moment when he tumbled into the blue. I suppose his family will remember him as the person he was but the rest of us may be inclined to fashion the bare cross and its words into a story that makes us feel safe from the long searching finger of death, a story that is not our story because surely our story will make more sense?

When we hear someone has died young it often arouses pity in our hearts too, the tragedy of the loss of years that could ‘reasonably’ have been depended on and I mused that I would not like to be subject of such pity in anyones heart and are we not all of us more than our deaths?

So my thoughts went and later I found myself drawn to reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. He tells us that when we die no matter what our span of years has been that we all lose the same thing and one thing only:the present moment. Everything else is illusion, the future, the past are  only so much dust, mere constructs we have tried to impose on the chaos of life.

All this was in my head then when I heard yesterday of the sudden death of the brother of a friend of mine (and the friend of a brother of mine) at the age of 41. I did not know him that well but there are connections between our families and the loss is deeply felt, the sudden manner of his death-slow enough for realisation perhaps but too swift for any chance of preparation-deeply saddening.

That is how I am feeling, saddened and sickened, as I get on my bike and take off around the coast and the countryside. It is a grey day but mild for December. The south wind is raking the sea when I stop at Dunabrattin where large numbers of gulls hang and glide and turn on the currents overhead. I head inland along country roads. There is no traffic and I feel alone in all the world though not lonely for it is not an unfriendly day.

Two horses stand in a field, their dark tails fanning out in the breeze. A rook cocks its head at me from an overhead wire, a dog barks, a marmalade cat with a pale chest appears beside a red and white barn. I pass a field and there is a buzzard standing in the stubble, ragged legs and yellow beak. It is a bird I have never seen before.

BUZZARD

BUZZARD

There is the human urge in me to see patterns everywhere. 41 years is 14 years backwards I think. Then:the buzzard, the unusual stillness,  the gulls… but I dismiss them before I can even wonder what it all means. I have seen a few people die now and it all seems chaotic.

I start to feel sad for these ‘early’ deaths my pity somehow separating me from them and I throw that thought out. How are these boys that have gone different from me really?They were what we are now: people living out the span of their lives whatever that span may be. Remove time from the equation and we are doing our best, all of us, the living and the dead:laughing, struggling, talking, fighting, loving, hating, despairing, panicking, angry, in pain and fear and occasional joy.

To feel sorry for the dead removes them from our hearts. In an effort to relieve our sorrow we fit them into neat little stories and patterns so we can feel separate from them. They are an anomaly we think, our departure when it comes will be different, more graceful, more timely but the truth is we are all of us tossed around on the sea of life navigating through whatever comes. We are all in the same big bastardy boat. Even across the divide of life and death we are all of us in our present moments for that is how we remember each other, both those who have just walked out of the room and those who will not return.

I tear through the countryside my lungs heaving in the smokey air flavoured with the occasional piney tang of fresh-cut logs, past the stone walls that line the undulating pale road. A dolmen, a red pump, skeletal trees scratching the grey sky. A magpie-no two!thank the gods- the cats and the dogs, horse and cows and strange birds weave in and out of my vision. I am in my moment as others have been in theirs, cycling, running, gallivanting on the cliffs or sitting, cat in lap, in front of a fire talking of everything under the sun. Like those moments my moment will some day end too. Maybe today I will not make it home.

I do make it home. This time. I take off my helmet and gloves and wheel my bike inside without pausing and set to go about the business of living intent on doing as little as possible to stir the great lake of sadness inside me this day.

“No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? … It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

For Nick and Eamonn. And all of us….

CAT

CAT

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15 responses to “INTO THE BLUE: THOUGHTS ON LIVING AND DYING

  1. Nicely thought through Clare. I rather think we don’t feel sorry for those that die at whatever young an age, but for their parents. Pre-deceasing one’s parents is unutterably sad, though thankfully it is far rarer (and therefore probably even sadder) than in former days. Love the marmalade cat – she probably has a view on it all but cats keep it all to themselves.

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    • Well yes the familys grief is a whole other thing that I just couldn’t write about. For me when someone dies young and they know that they are going to die I try to imagine myself in their position. I have seen friends die who expected longer lives I suppose and I do feel all sorts of things for them, dismay, despair, anger and pity but I guess I should not assume that feeling of pity is universal. Just my own stuff. But that was what I was trying to get across, not the familys grief, which I am not in a place to write about really…I think a bit more editing might be needed so thanks again for reading Roy and for the feedback….and youre most probably right about the cat too! 🙂

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  2. Powerful words beautifully written, this made me pause and stop and think,
    surely that’s the whole point of great writing… your words affect the reader in a unique way and make them think about the questions posed by the piece?

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    • Thank you Niall!I guess my thoughts are universal and we have all read and said the same things in the face of tragic circumstances, I know I am not saying anything new…so its very nice for me to hear that. Great writing?I don’t know, but I’ll accept the compliment. Thank you very much.

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  3. Your writing seems true and honest and from the heart as you describe what you see and feel. Death has come close to me this year and more than ever I try to live in the moment. I once had a cat like that. How wonderful to be able to illustrate with your own art. Peace to you.

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    • Thank you, sometimes, in these times I just have to write to try maybe and make sense of what makes no sense. And the pictures help me too. It helps me cope. I am sorry to hear of your sadness too. Living in the moment seems to be the only way to go. I have found in the past that sometimes it can even make the worst of times also seem like the best of times. Which is odd. Peace to you also. And thanks again.

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  4. Beautifully written piece on a subject that we all try to avoid. It is the end of all the opportunities that could have been, that makes me sad when a young person dies. Sadder still, when this is the chosen path rather than a blow from beyond. The mystery of life and death remains a mystery. As for death, the loss of the present moment is as good a description as I have heard and I hope that this awareness helps me live in the moment. Thank You.

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    • Thanks for your lovely comment Breda. Death is devastating through illness or accident as were the cases here or through choice too and there are few of us now who have not been touched by death in any or even all of these forms.Thanks again for reading and taking the time to write, much appreciated.

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  5. The 14 year old boy is my brother . Have only just come across this. Very interesting and moving. Coincidence that your friend’s friend also named Nick was the name of my eldest brother who died 6 years ago

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    • Hi Bobby…lovely to hear from you and thanks for your comments. I often see this cross when I am out on the cliffs and it is nice to connect a little, it makes Eamonn seem more than a name to me so I appreciate hearing from you. And so sorry to hear about your Nick….and yes,the names, a weird coincidence too, or connection maybe, which is a nice way to look at it. Ah so much loss, hard to think about it sometimes. Thanks again for the comment.

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