Death defines us.
Ooh morbid – you may think – especially for the first piece in your new Journal (*).
“Well yes,” says I; “except that this piece isn’t so much about the ‘death’ part of that first sentence, as it is about the ‘defines us’ part.”
I was led to thinking (or re-thinking) about this cheerful topic by an equally cheerful story in a recent newspaper – about someone being murdered. As I’m not generally into offending people and you never know who might happen to click upon this blog, I’m not about to go into specifics, suffice it to say that the newspaper headline referred to the work of the person who lost their life – i.e. what they did to earn a wage. This seems to be standard newspaper practice. Standard news media practice.
I suppose one’s “profession” is an easy, headline-friendly way of defining or describing a person. That and things like age, race and gender. You know, arbitrary stuff. And I suppose people do often judge people by these things.
But aren’t they just flimsy paper labels on a deep, mysterious and often bafflingly complex box?
(Or something like that)
When someone dies, especially in a tragic and unexpected way, as befits a newspaper headline, it’s like their life, their existence, is a stick of seaside rock, and what you see at the end of that stick of rock – what is written on the surface thereupon – is an instantaneous snapshot of that person’s life. “What was” – a newspaper journalist might ask – “this person at the moment of their demise? How old were they? What did they do for a job? Where did they live?… etc.”
Never mind the person’s thoughts and feelings and ambitions and political leanings and philosophy on the meaning of love and so on. The person worked in a shop (or a bank or a restaurant or down a mine) – this is of primary importance.
Irrespective of the rightness (or most definitely not, IMHO) of a newspaper headline’s way of defining someone who has met with a tragic demise… this is the way of things. And I fear and feel that – as with most things media-related – it is indicative of the wider societal context; with respect, I mean to say, of the way people are judged – of the way people are defined and described by the people doing the defining and describing. The stick of rock/tragic newspaper-reported death analogy just highlights the bigger picture.
What is the moral of this story?
Not that there has to be one; and being my blog, I can, if I wish, leave it there and just have this piece be a having-a-go-at-newspapers-and-the-superficial-ways-people-judge-people kind of piece.
But I don’t want to just leave it there! I mean, what’s the point of just taking a swipe at something you don’t like, especially when that something is not at all bothered with your swipage, and in fact said swipage is but a microscopically irritating fly on the face of… ooh, I dunno… Jupiter? No point, that’s what. Apart, of course, from the undoubted cathartic value of spleen ventage… but other than that…
I want to expand!
So expand I shall…
Now I won’t say, “Imagine you have met with a tragic demise… etc” – because, you know, that encourages some pretty negative imagining, and as I have recently said on my other blog, I do believe, at least to some extent, that thoughts can create actual stuff. But what I will say is… [*CLICHÉ ALERT*]…
Live every day as if it is your last!
Not literally, because you may then go on a smoking, drinking, bonking, whatever-ing bender, which wouldn’t be good for anyone. But…
Referring back to my “Instantaneous Snapshot” comment, if someone took a slice-through-a-stick-of-rock-like snapshot of your life, right now, would you be happy with what you saw? Of course, no one expects you to “have it all sorted,” but would you be happy with where you’ve been, where you are going and the state of your life, soul and mind, right now? As you read this, are you able to stand back, proudly smile and say:
“Yup, that’s me!”
= = = = =
(*) For the benefit of those reading this for the first time on my blog – i.e. everyone except me – the draft of this piece is the first thing I wrote in my latest Writing Journal.