Saturday, September 19, 2009

Spot of Dying

Across The Road From The Graveyard, Achill, County Mayo
Conversation between my wife and our five year old son:

Son: Mummy I don't want to die.
Mother: Neither do I.
Son: But you get to choose when you die.
Mother: Really? How do you do that?
Son: You go to the dying spot and jump in.

Death has been on his mind recently. Of course, we have explained already that he won't die, not for a long, long, looooong time, that he's safe, we're safe, etc. Nevertheless, death resurfaces, bobbing into the conversational slipstream at odd moments. What probably brought it up today was the fact that I had let slip that I'd attended a 'removal' yesterday evening, a septuagenarian relation of ours, who contracted cancer of the liver and was gone in eight months: a kindly man, 'a gentleman', as people noted.

If we were religious, we would have been quick to reassure our son (largely the whole point of religions) that he will never die, not really, and that his parents will no doubt be waiting for him when he eventually does die, having wiped our feet on Heaven's welcome mat and joined the party; as Donne so eloquently (and comfortingly) put it: 'One short sleep past, we wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.'

But neither of us is religious. My wife is cheerily atheist and I am strongly inclined that way (though hedging my bets behind an all-but-hopeless agnosticism). My gut tells me there is nothing afterward, nothing but our cheerless, time-leased apartment in nothingness, the same infinitesimal/enormous place the galaxies are speeding to. So it is a little chilling to hear the d-word being shaped by a five-year-old's lips. But it is also, I believe, natural, and rather healthy. His 'dying spot' could hardly have anything to do with suicide, a concept we have never discussed. It is far more likely what my wife suggests: a way of exerting control over something which he is, some day, in danger of being controlled by. He is right to be indignant, even appalled. But he knows he is well-loved, and I trust it is this (and the assurance that he is here and now, in the infinitely present present) which will allow him to deflate death and stow it in its proper place, for now.

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