Friday, 5 April 2013

Reaper Man

IT WON’T HURT, said Death. If words had weight, a single sentence from Death would have anchored a ship.
Terry Pratchett, 
The Colour of Magic
Two days ago, Iain Banks announced, with characteristic grace and charm, that he has cancer- and only a year left to live. 
‘Too soon.’, I thought.
I know a lot of people who are much bigger fans of his than I am.
‘Way too soon!’, I thought on their behalf.
How awful it must be to see your heroes die before their time, and right before your eyes.  It made me angry. I thought about all my heroes who are now gone, and before I could grab my imagination by the scruff of its neck, pin it against the wall and punch it in the stomach for even trying to go to that dark, dreary place, I thought about the ones who are still alive and well- working, writing, inventing, creating- and about how unbearable it would be if one of them suddenly died (Thanks, Imagination. Aren’t you a charmer!).
I thought about Douglas Adams.
Too. Bloody. Soon.

“Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken’?” - Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

And then, yesterday brought the news of Roger Ebert’s demise. Again, I know a lot of people who probably admired him much more than I did, but you should see the Roger Ebert shaped hole that’s in front of me right now. It’s pretty big.

“Despite rumour, Death isn't cruel- merely terribly, terribly good at his job.”
- Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

What does ‘too soon’ mean, anyway? What a cold, callous thing to say! Is it too soon because they were still writing? Because they would have gone on to write much more? If a person who has already done all they were ever going to do,  lived a nice, long life, been good to everyone, and seen happy days, dies without much pain or discomfort, does that make their death okay for the rest?
It should. But I know from experience that it doesn’t; not really.

“It's not that I don't want... I mean, I've's just that life is a habit that's hard to break...” 

- Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

It’s just that this is the world I’ve been living in. If you take one person out of it, that’s one step away from the world that I know has been great so far, and has kept me safe, and alive, and inspired, and more or less happy. Yes, there will always be new, amazing people and things. And they will probably bring more joy, and wonder, and excitement than I might imagine. But you know, it’s like that thing with the human body, where by the end of every seven years, each cell in it has been replaced. Bits of your world substituted, one by one, until nothing is left of the world you originally came into.

- Terry Pratchett, Soul Music

About two years ago, my grandparents lost a lot of their siblings and cousins in a short length of time. We were worried about them. But I remember overhearing a conversation between my mum and my aunt where one was saying to the other that, at their age, they're probably better prepared for this. It’s a loss, yes, but not as much of a shock. This is true. But right now, even that thought seems to hold a lot of anguish, and not enough comfort.

“The thing is, I mean, there’s times when you look at the universe and you think, “What about me?” and you can just hear the universe replying, “Well, what about you?”” 
- Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

We did a neuro-anatomy course a few days ago, which involved dissecting a human brain. It was the first time for most of us - we got to hold the brain, stare at it, make cuts in it, take out the blood vessels on top, peel away the connecting tissue, slice it, the whole deal!- and the only thing weird about it was how it didn’t feel weird at all. Every few minutes it would hit us that this used to be a person, and here we were, holding it, talking about it, laughing around it, observing how its texture, after being formalined, was now almost like that of a mushroom! We weren’t really doing anything inappropriate at all, but there was still a sense of ‘Is this allowed? Are we allowed to laugh in this room?’. Our lecturer told us about his days at medical school. Yes, they would laugh. Medical students - when they start off - are usually just kids barely out of their teens. Making jokes is a kind of coping mechanism, because there is almost no real way for them to even conceive or process the notion of death so directly, let alone confront it. At the time, I found this idea of young people not knowing what to do in the face of death quite sweet, and funny, and touching.

But when it comes to it, isn’t that where we always are? There’s always a reason for it to not make sense.  Too soon, too sudden, too slow, too cruel, too close, too big, too small, too painful. There is always something to make it not okay. I doubt I will ever understand it or make peace with it. And I really, really hope that death knows what it’s doing, because I sure as hell don’t.

- Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man


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