Opinion

Choose life

GGM quote

I’ve been thinking about death a lot this week, as I expect everybody has. It’s been inescapable, with the shock of David Bowie, and then Alan Rickman, an aftershock knocking you over just as you were getting back on your feet.

Of course, death is everywhere, always, but for many of us in the West, life is so much more abundant that we can put it to the back of our minds. Not this week.

My gut says death is what gives life meaning. None of us know how much time we have. The knowledge we can end at any time is what defines us. Is there an after-life? I don’t know, but I don’t believe our human consciousness survives death, so what does it matter? We each have this one, unpredictably short life as a human. The question is, what to do with it?

I’ve never seen anything like the outpouring of love for David Bowie since his death. The only thing that comes close in my memory is John Lennon’s death but we didn’t have social media then so others’ grief was filtered through mass media. In the hours after the news of his death broke, there was little talk of anything else on social media (in the West, at least) and days later, the tributes continue to flow. Suddenly we’re all connected by loss. It’s like a disturbance in the force.

I think we feel David Bowie’s loss so keenly because he taught us so much about how to live. A skinny working class kid who lived by his own rules and changed the world through art. He never stopped exploring the limits of his potential. He’s credited with helping bring down the Berlin Wall, FFS. Yet he never held himself to be better than anyone else, even though in all our eyes he was exceptional. He’s been described as a “secular saint” but he was utterly human; his addictions and other battles are well-documented. And when he found out he was dying, he kept on making art. He did not go gentle into that good night.

I’m unsentimental about my own death. I fear suffering but I accept my time is limited. I want to live my one life as I please, and to die peacefully, with dignity. Most of my politics arise from my belief that all humans should have that right.  This week, as every week, there have also been scores of deaths of innocent people whose life was ended prematurely thanks to war and exploitation and poverty.  I read a beautiful article this week about two Australian scientists who took their own lives in a suicide pact. It’s what I would hope for myself and as a Westerner I can possibly arrange my life so it’s an option. Few people in the world have this luxury, and that’s a shame.

I try to live as though I could die anytime. My friend Joanne says I’m the grasshopper from Aesop’s Fable, so I guess I succeed. What really scares me is the amount of death I must face if I keep living. A colleague my age remarked that our generation have to look forward to watching all our idols pass. That faces me in real life too. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far; my life has been relatively untouched by death. Inevitably that will change. All the more reason to pull our loved ones close while we can.

I don’t want to be buried when I die. What a waste of money and space! I’d be happy for my body to go to science. I’ll have no use for it. If there’s funeral, I want them to play I Go to Rio and for everyone to dance and sing and drink too much and hug each other and to leave vowing to spend more time enjoying life. We have just one short life, we have to live it.

 

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9 thoughts on “Choose life

  1. Beautiful words dear Robyn. You and Belinda took to their blogs this week and helped many of us sorting their thoughts. I was very reflective this week as well while being incredible busy with some creative work myself. It motivated me even more to keep doing what I know best and to live life as if it is my last. However, I also know I’m not ready….yet. So seeing idols of mine crossing over… having accomplished art that touched many people inspires me to do just that. Like yourself when my day comes I hope people will remember me for my art and have a big party…..celebrating my life. David Bowie touched so many generations and will be one of the icons continuing into the next decades….like Robin Williams (the outpour for him was similar and raised the consciousness about the problem in our society with mental health) and to a certain degree Michael Jackson (even with all its controversy).

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful blog and sharing your authentic self with us. Love you xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Kat. You are one of the people who inspires me to live life to the full. Your lust for life is a joy to behold and no matter what life has dealt you, you come back twice as strong. I agree, neither of us have been here long enough yet x

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  3. I’ve seen similar reactions to Bowie’s death. These are mostly trend-hoppers who don’t listen to music anyway but want to make their presence in social media known. I think the stories of Ian Watkins, Bill Cosby and Bowie’s groupies prove something. Artists sell a product. I don’t mourn them because they are not my friends.

    The lesson we learn from Bowie is not that anyone can make their life good. It’s that many of us aren’t special enough to become famous like him.

    I think suicide is rational and death is, overall, better than life (Asymmetry argument). While I’m here though, I’m going to make the best of my life and work against the celebrity culture. That also means I’m not joining the collective mourning of Bowie.

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    1. Each to their own – we agree that you’ve got to live your life.

      There are always bandwagon jumpers but there’s also a genuine sense of loss. I am completely with you on the false idol front: we are all horribly human and to expect that talent and/or celebrity exempts anyone from all the incumbent messiness is stupid. I think the human capacity to create is one of the best things about life, and I celebrate the people who move me with their creations. As a writer, that’s what I aspire to do

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      1. I don’t celebrate people. I celebrate creations. Even the person who helps rape victims can be a wifebeater or a con artist.

        I wish it wasn’t like that, but every news story keeps pointing this out. I’ll enjoy the contribution of anyone, but celebrating people I don’t know is dangerous.

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      2. It’s not that. It’s just that people are too complex, too messy to form an opinion besides my relationship with them. No matter how much someone achieved, there’s plenty I don’t know about them. So I’m careful.

        Cruelty, evil, and other such things aren’t outside of us.

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      3. Wow….this discussion has gone in a direction that is unexpected. What I don’t understand is Brain in the Jar, you say you celebrate creations. Where do creations come from? It’s the inspiration people have that compels them to create and share with either themselves (keep it to yourself and feel satisfied) or with the world….that can be anything from music to words to films to buildings to clothes to paintings to sculptures and every other bit of art there is. My advice to you is stop watching the news….it’s fabricated information that wants you believe the world is bad and dangerous and we need to be scared. What a sad life I would be living if that is true.

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