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Monday, July 14, 2014 

An attack of morbidity.

Track-marked amoeba lands craft.  Cartwheel of scratches.  Dress the tapeworm as pet.

A few weeks back a friend (thanks as always, mate) and I paid a visit to Highgate cemetery.  Yes, Karl Marx, obviously, but it wasn't just his tomb I wanted to see.  It might seem more than a little creepy in these post-Savile times, having an interest in graveyards; all the same, they are always fascinating, humbling, evocative, beguiling places, and Highgate is one of the finest of its kind.

More than anything else, in death we are all equal.  In Highgate East the hulking monstrosity of Marx's cenotaph, paid for and constructed by the (Stalinist) Communist Party of Great Britain in the 50s, sits almost directly opposite the plain, minimalistic by contrast headstones of Chris Harman and Paul Foot, both members of the SWP, and both of whom died before its current troubles.  Foot's epitaph is a quotation from Shelley, while Harman's is from Brecht; Marx's, naturally, quotes himself.  At Marx's original resting place lies a slab noting the moving of his and his wife's remains.  It's riven by cracks, which if you were so inclined you could take either as a reflection on his legacy or what he might have thought of the cultish monument erected 70 years after his death.

Away from the "names", one headstone more than any other has stayed with me.  On it were the names of two children, who died the same day, at ages I think 5 and 7.  While there's a life beneath every plot, a history of someone who came into existence and then as we all must went out of it, behind this particular grave there had to have been a story more tragic than most.  Whether they died in an accident or something more sinister there was no indication, as there shouldn't be.  In creating a memorial to someone the emphasis ought always to be not on how they died, but how they lived.  Or, if they were taken too soon, how they could have lived.

Today I visited a cemetery closer to home, one I had been to not so long ago to celebrate a life, just not to see this particular grave.  As I searched for it, not remembering where it was, I looked at hundreds of headstones, dedications to husbands, wives, sons, daughters, all regretfully departed, all much loved, all people I didn't know.  Yet I found myself tearing up, reminded of how fleeting this experience we call being alive is, of the cruelty when it is snatched away, of the pain caused by parting regardless of the time spent together.  The babies who expired within hours or even minutes of taking their first breath of air, if indeed they ever did.  The children who never reached adulthood.  The former partners, in death reunited.  The murder victim, justice finally achieved for her last year.

Having been severely depressed, not to mention disposed to ruminating on such things, I've probably thought about dying more than I care to relate.  Except, not really.  As I sat before my brother's headstone, talking to him, paying my respects to someone I never knew, never could have known, crying my eyes out, as I'm doing again now, it hit me that all the images my mind has conjured up have been but the most wretched facsimile of what my actual death would be like.  Not for me personally, as I'm unimportant, as I've always been.  I don't hold to the bullshit we are all unique, beautiful creatures line when we are most certainly not.  However, to the people that matter, who really matter, you are exactly that, like it or not, despite it often not seeming that way.

Life makes no sense.  For years I've tried to quantify exactly why it is I feel the way I do, whether there's anything I could have done to change my path, how it is I ended up here.  Should I just be happy to have lived the way I have?  Can I be?  You tell yourself how extraordinarily lucky you are, by historical standards, by quality of life standards, by being born in a western democracy no matter how many things there are wrong with it, and yet it still feels hollow.  I think of what is I thought I wanted, how simple, how pitiful it is.  Then I look at the alternative solution I've lusted after more than anything, anyone else, how encompassing it is, how it seems to offer release.

But at what cost?

Fell asleep.  Dearly loved.  Sadly missed.  We'll meet again.  Our darling Rich.

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Tolkien (of all people) wrote that death was a great paradox - it's the one universal fact of life, the one thing we can say with absolute certainty about everyone is that they will some day die. And yet when it's a friend, a lover, a family member who dies, it's the worst, most traumatic and most incomprehensible thing possible: it's as if we'd never considered the possibility of that person dying. After a friend died a few years ago, I remember there were mornings when I woke up not remembering (repressing?) what had happened - "I've been a bit sad lately, haven't I... oh, that's right, somebody's died... not M, though - it wouldn't be M who's died..." And then the walls caved in all over again. It's just the worst thing in the world.

"But I knew that someday I was going to die. And just before I died, two things would happen: Number 1 – I would regret my entire life. Number 2 – I would want to live my life over again".

Hubert Selby Jr.

I expect there's remarkably few people who haven't felt at least one of those emotions, or who won't.

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