We’ve all seen them or got them lain at the bottom of a drawer somewhere: the old school photo from when we were 3, 5 or 15, with all our friends ancient and modern, remembered and forgotten. Whats amazing is how common those types of photos are across the world: rows of faces stare out at us straight at the camera, arms folded, some kneeling, some sat, some stood. Hair parted, clothes neat and tidy, expressions ranging from vacant to bored to quizzical; postures shifting from angular to argumentative to aggressive.
Whats touching about those photos looking at them decades later is the recognition that year on year, names get forgotten, bodies merge into the background scenery and faces disappear.
It comes to us all at some point – the failing knee, the ligament, the problematic cartilage, the sense that we’re looking at friends and colleagues who one by one are starting to drop out of the school photo we have in our minds.
We show more interest in death – we build coffins, we know people who are dying or who have just died – and actually we’re all dying, that’s a given, we’re all coming to the end of something, although we might not know it at the time.
And yet this is not easy for any of us, we trouble over the missed and the missing the dead and the dying as if this is the first time it has ever happened in the history of humankind. Why do we find it so difficult to accept that that we are not the be all and end all, that there are millions of others like us, growing, failing, struggling dying, there is nothing unremarkable about this, what is unremarkable is just how prevalent it all is.
Anno domini my mum calls it – the knowing that our years are limited (how bloody obvious is it all?) and slowly but surely we are all fracturing, fading, fragmenting away. It started when we were conceived, it continued when we were born, it seems to accelerate as we get older. We’re staring it in the face all the time and we continually shy away from it, won’t look at it straight on and continue to think we are immortal, invisible, god-only wise.
The question is not so much how we live but how we die – this is not a question of how we live Aristotle’s good life, but how we die our own good death.