Monday, November 28, 2005
dulce et decorum est
that we change with time.
That we change so slowly that we don’t even understand the nature of the change, it is gradual, insipient. We don’t stand far enough away from ourselves to observe it.
One of our evening soirees takes us past a tiny stone church and cemetery, it borders the park on a square for almost half a mile, separated only by a low wall. At 7.30 these days it is pitch, and tonight there is a steady biting wind, the trees overhead bend and susserate in low voices, skeletal viola’s played by the bow of the icy air. A night of runny noses and wind whipped leaf devils, and apparently no one else.
We follow the wall, the boys snuffling amongst the low grass and I stare at the grave stones standing in irregular rank and file just a few feet away. There’s a low hedge running like a dark ribbon amongst the stones and here and there the midnight mushrooms of rowans and weeping willows betwixt and between the larger lozenge shapes of larger family tombs.
And there’s a flicker of light, just a few yards back, at the base of a larger head stone. A will ‘o the wisp of tiny pale light in the dark and the wind. It’s only a dozen feet away, and I’m curious, I slide over the wall to take a closer look leaving the dogs to their own devices for a minute or two. Just a few steps in it’s obvious that the light is a candle, in a beaker with a lid, like a storm lantern. Whoever tends this grave has seen fit to mark this day by lighting a candle, to what end I don’t know because the light of the candle isn’t sufficient to read the name of whoever lies there, or the dates to see if this is an anniversary.
I don’t feel irreverent. Neither for feeling curious or for stepping over the nameless inhabitants of the ground below to sate my curiosity. And it suddenly occurs to me that I don’t feel in the least bit unsettled by being alone, by the light of a fluttering candle, kneeling by a grave in the venerable shadow of an elderly church on a cold blustery night.
It wouldn’t always have been like this. I have been for as far as I can remember, scared of the dark. More so indoors than outdoors, I would lie in bed in the dark and pull in my hands and feet lest something touch them in the night, but nevertheless scared of what might remain in the dark when the light fled. (I think I had very good reason too, but they’re different stories).
So back over the wall I went a whistling, and groaning as it happened as my legs aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground on both sides and I rocked momentarily on parts of me that weren’t designed as load bearing members.
With the wind gratefully to my back we continue our circuit, all three of us chasing shadows in our own way. The manner of the change isn’t difficult to understand, in fact it’s very obvious. Quite simply I am not scared of death anymore. It holds none of the unspoken, vague but terrible dread of youth. It simply is. A practicality. The people in the ground are no longer a horrifying alien species, but now a mundane reminder of what we all will become, they’ve lost their power by dint of their sheer numbers and the certain boring fact that I will join them one day.
I swear that if a sepulchral figure were to trouble me one night in bed, that I would now simply tell it to “fuck off, I’ve got be up early in the morning”.
No, these days I have substituted these night fears for day fears instead. No fear of the grim reaper lives here, just a more languid, insipient fear. The fear of living.
The fear of fear itself almost. The fear of choice, for isn’t that what life is? A myriad opportunities every single day to make choices. I don’t know about your life any more than you know about mine, but every single day I have the opportunity to stand up and be counted, to do things that will change my life perhaps only fractionally but for the better. I can do anything that I want to do within the constraints of my imagination. I can speak to whomever I please, live where and how I like, keep my peace or say my mind….
I don’t wish to be afraid. I don’t wish to let the future make choices for me, I want to make choices for my future and then live by them. Mostly I don’t wish to believe that that I have to make perfect choices, that the next choice is the only and final one. Fear of consequence , of some possible, frightful outcome, becomes an inability to choose at all, denies what might be, a small but very real death.
It sounds grandiose I know. In fact it sounds ridiculous even to me. In so much as the consequences of any choice rarely impact just on oneself.
It’s been a stated ambition of mine for a long time now to find a place, a perfect selfish place, where I have no impact on anyone else’s life. I know it’s something I can do, and I’ve come a very long way down that road.
All I need to do is be firm, or invest in a really sharp spade and a tarpaulin.