Live your life. Live every hour, minute, second of it. Live it to the fullest, soak in every little experience that you can squeeze into this short, temporary, fading life of yours.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying light.*
It’s such a fucking cliché.
We hear these empty phrases, hollow platitudes all around us. Pop psychology on t-shirts, sappy crap on cheap ceramic mugs retailing in hippie markets. We hear these paeans from spiritual guides, holy leaders, wise old men sitting on park benches. Narratives excerpted and summarised from idiotic TV talk show celebrities, feel-good messages on the back covers of self-help books. Desensitised, we smirk and sneer, disparage and mock both the message and the messenger. We are so sophisticated, caught up in our modern, culturally evolved and intellectually superior pursuits. Our cynicism inures us from the inanity of triteness.
Except when something happens, something to shake us out of our sarcasm, our derision, our hyper-intellectual disdain.
Today I had one of those moments. A pleasant enough afternoon, spent with a former co-worker recounting travel anecdotes. It was a surprisingly warm autumn day in London, despite the clouds. Trendy coffee shop with a Kiwi theme (the country, not the fruit). Kitschy Maori art, Buddhist statues (how that’s Kiwi, I don’t know, but there you go). All in all, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
Then, returning home. A quick cursory glance at my email inbox, only to find a note from my parents. An aunt, a distant cousin of my mother, had died this afternoon in a hospital. Several days of high fever, jaundice, complications, finally leading to liver and kidney failure. She passed away this afternoon.
I can only hope it was painless.
I am not devastated. I am not heartbroken, I am not shattered. I hadn’t seen her for four years, and didn’t even know that she had been unwell, so it wasn’t as if we were close.
But the news did manage to shake me, in my little intellectual world, up a little. And part of the reason is because the news just reinforced just how insufficient, how fragile, and how terribly short this life of ours is. (There’re those damn platitudes again).
But it’s only at times like this that you realise just how true each and every one of these fucking clichés are.
So tonight I remember a woman, who was kind, gentle, slightly eccentric (but then, if you’re in my family, you’d have to be) and had a lot of love and affection for everyone. Someone who desperately loved her three children, who fought for them, who travelled further emotional and cultural distances for them than perhaps many of her own siblings would have, and who was ultimately a fighter when she had to become one for them.
And when the shock, and the sorrow, of her passing away has worn off, I will try and remember not to mock the many platitudes, the kitschy pop psychobabble that we find all around us, and try not to sink into my cynical derision of them quite so soon. Because no matter how stupid they all sound, in the end, you realise that they’re all absolutely fucking true.
RIP, dear aunt.
* Excerpt from Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night"