We are a fantastic species. For millennia we saw comets in the sky as messages from gods, omens of defeat and disease, yet now we have landed on one. A tiny craft made here travelled 300 million miles through the void, hit the bullseye and then plonked itself down on the comet’s surface.
You’d think we were almost gods ourselves, were it not for death. Struggling with the knowledge of our inevitable death we show our humanity, rather than our divinity.
We’re going to die one day. We don’t know why we’re here and we don’t know how to face death so comet schmommet, we’re not gods at all.
We are human, blessed with the 4 Effs of Humanity. We are fallible, freaked out, fucked up and fantastic.
I’m a big fan of humanity: both the race and the emotion. In the last week death has visited my life three times, in wholly different ways, and I’ve given thanks to humanity for easing my pain.
You might mock the first of my deaths but tread carefully. There can be more to a plant than mere vegetable matter, and Perfect White Geranium and I had history. Back in 1995 I left the West of Ireland to make a new life in California.
Tragically it didn’t work out, so when I returned years later, I shared a place with my friend Artist In Blue Towel. I’d given her all my plants when I left and then forgotten them, so I was thrilled when she handed me back my white geranium.
I cut a branch off it, stuck it into another pot and gave it to my friend. This new plant thrived, as did the mother plant, for decades.
Over the years I lost count of how many cuttings I took off Perfect White Geranium. I became quite cavalier, even showing off a little at how easy it was to create a new plant.
Look, just take this central stem, chopped at both ends, and d’naaah, another plant.
Perfect because the plant’s leaves were flawless, large, deep dark green: memories of a life loved, lost and regained.
So when the stem went black in the pot, I knew its time had come. Everything dies. Being a nurturer I’d be sad to lose any plant, but this one was almost a friend.
If I wasn’t writing this in public, I’d say Perfect White Geranium was a friend, but generally people expect friends to have heartbeats, so when I then heard about the dog that had died, I was deeply sad.
Admittedly at the time I had consumed a small bucketload of whiskey, as we were mourning the loss of a true human friend, but Una didn’t know that I hadn't heard that Boogie had died, and all of a sudden tears were exploding from my eyes.
Una looked a little surprised and distressed, until I explained that her black labrador and I had formed a strong and permanent bond years ago, while her family, all of us in fact, were experiencing trauma.
Death makes little sense at the best of times. When it takes a tiny spirited unique child, you find yourself hugging the dog.
Third of the three and left until last as it hurts the most, the death of my friend Tim. Another gone far too young, we knew death was on the agenda as he’d been living with cancer for a long time. Throughout the surgery and the ensuing disfigurement, Tim remained as stoic, brave and dry witted as he ever was.
Tim was one of those people who are built purely of the essence of themselves. When I visited him in UCH a few days before he died, he showed not one single change of character.
Of course he felt emotions just like any human, but Tim was English: he kept a lid on it.
So when I ran out of football smalltalk and dared to venture from the safety of Boy Chat into the No Man’s Land of Human Talk, he had no time for it.
I asked him if he’d watched the game the previous night. He nodded but explained he’d not seen all of it.
“So tired.” he whispered, leaning back on the pillow.
“That’d be your body fighting the illness.” I offered, knowing it was no such thing.
Tim looked over to me and smiled.
“Nah. T’isn’t.” he said, forcing me to nod in agreement.
The silence that followed was laden with truth; the simple yet devastating truth that he was struggling to stay alive.
After my visit Tim texted me to say thanks for coming in. Away from his bedside I was allowed to once more leave the shores of Safe Man Talk, and text him back that he was a good man.
Smily emoticon came back, his way of saying “Goodbye” to my “Goodbye.”
He was a good man. It was said in the church by many. It was said in the pub by many more. It was the summation of the man. If our lives are to be summed up in five words, I can think of none finer.
Once you’ve popped your clogs it makes no difference whether you climbed Everest or won X- Factor. Did you live a just life? Did you do harm? Did you love others?
The sadness that accompanies each death is as different as the human gone. When Tim’s coffin came around the corner of the street, carried by close friends of mine, my emotions went into spasm.
Yes, he was loved by them and I am part of them and even though I now live far away I am still so much a part of this and whooosh ... my tears flowed.
Tim was humanity on legs, the human race in a single person. Yes, he was flawed; a smile appeared on my face each and every time I saw him; he was a good man.
When death comes to us, I hope we might all match Tim’s legacy.