In the northern hemisphere, where I happen to live, today is the shortest day of the year: midwinter, a time of customary celebration – Christian or otherwise – when people gather together around a fire, feast and make merry, and generally tell themselves that the worst is behind them. Of course this isn’t really true. Winter is just getting going now, and while the solar year may have ended, and the calendar year isn’t far behind, there’s a good long way to go until spring.
It’s also a time to look back on the year just gone and reflect and what it has brought us or taken from us. Latterly the second category has seemed to outweigh the former, in many ways. Not many people are better off today than they were a year ago, let alone two years ago – unless they hold shares in Moderna.
Usually this time of year is about hope, and I would never discount hope. Only an optimist would get out of bed in the morning, especially when it’s still dark. But today I want to strip off the sugar-coating and focus on the underlying pill. Things come to an end, including lives; and while this is also a necessary process it’s not always an easy one.
I don’t usually talk about personal matters in this blog – if you want Facebook I’m sure you know where to find it – but I’m going to make an exception this time, because it’s relevant to the theme. A few weeks ago, my brother died, quite unexpectedly. It wasn’t from the dreaded lurgi but a common or garden heart attack, so he won’t even be a statistic; then again, he won’t be a political football either, which I suppose is some consolation. Just a part of the usual processes of attrition that are quietly going on all around us, as noticeable as the sound of falling leaves.
In this case, it’s not just a life that’s over – he had children and grandchildren, and leaves a widow and more behind him. There are things that would have happened if he had lived that will not now happen at all, or not in the same way, now that he has died. That is something we can speak of as an ending.
He leaves behind not just his family but a number of creative projects, some of them involving me, which will now no longer come to fruition, at least in the way they would have done. To that extent, the world is certainly a poorer place for his leaving it. Of course it is just as true to say that the world is a richer place for his having been in it: he was a talented musician, artist, designer, photographer and songwriter, and perhaps no single lifetime would have been long enough for him to do all that he might have done.
This video gives some sense of a good ending. It’s the band’s final performance of their most famous song, live in front of their home fans. I include it here not just for the song or for the performance, although I happen to like both very much, but for the way the band members are with one another at the end. It’s the kind of parting I would have wished to have had from my brother, but of course I never did.
I’m not getting into any metaphysical discussions about the after-life here; I’m not a theologian, and don’t even play one on TV. The quotation from Terry Pratchett at the head of this piece must however certainly be true, as far as it goes. (For what it’s worth, it’s more or less what the ancient Greeks believed about the after-life, in as much as the ancient Greeks agreed about anything.) I’d like to think that my brother will have something more than that, though. I tend to find the notion of reincarnation intuitively appealing, as that’s the way that ecosystems seem to work in general. He had a natural burial in a biodegradable coffin, so at least on the physical level that’s what awaits him.
Beyond that I’m not qualified to say, and perhaps nobody is. I’ll find out for myself one day, when my turn comes as it will for all of us. The Anglo-Saxons used to reckon age not in years but in winters, and at this time of year it’s easy to understand why. Not all of us will get to see the spring.
Eat, drink, and be merry….
In memoriam Will Shaman, 1956-2021
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