what african guy?
“Motherfucking cocksucker motherfucking shit fucker what am I doing? What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m doing the best that I can. I know that’s all I can ask of myself. Is that good enough? Is my work doing any good? Is anybody paying attention? Is it hopeless to try to change things? The African guy is a sign, right? Because if he isn’t, then nothing in this world makes any sense to me. I’m fucked! Maybe I should quit. Don’t quit! Maybe I should just fucking quit. Don’t fucking quit! I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to fucking do anymore! Fucker! Fuck shit!”
Some days I feel like Jason Schwartzman in I Heart Huckabees. What does it all mean? What is everyone doing? Why are we here? Why do we die and where do we go and why can’t we make collect calls to heaven and ask for advice about life from the dead — it’s short, they would say — and where the hell is heaven anyways, if anywhere?
Ever since the day Wren was born, I’ve carried this low-grade anxiety with me. A primal survival instinct kicked in that morning, something telling me that I must stay alive at all costs, for as long as possible. Whereas before the idea of dying was rather inconvenient, now there’s downright no room for death in the calendar. Sorry death, I’m terribly busy raising this child, she needs me more than anything and you can’t really expect me to drop everything for you, can you? Go find someone else to play with until our scheduled meeting in 2075.
Joe’s uncle passed away suddenly last Tuesday. His death was unexpected, but perhaps unsurprising given his lifestyle. He was far too young, 62. My first feeling, after the initial sadness, was anger. I was angry at him for not taking better care of himself. Angry that he won’t be around to walk his girls down the aisle. Angry that his kids’ kids won’t have a grand-father. I realise now that most of my anger was misdirected. That this event triggered old resentment towards my own father for leaving us too soon. It hurts every day that he never has and never will meet Wren, not on this physical plane anyways. And now that I am a mother, it raises the question, wouldn’t you do anything in your power to stay as healthy and as full of life as possible for your children? Wouldn’t your love for them trump any addiction? Wouldn’t you quit smoking, lose that extra weight, go to therapy, eat your vegetables… anything to be the best version of yourself you could possibly be? Or is that just self-righteous thinking? And maybe even selfish?
Death walks with us every day. It doesn’t only knock on the doors of little old ladies. It is indiscriminate. There’s not always, almost never, time to say good-bye. It seems cruel and unfair and far too risky not to be your best self. We are on this planet for such a short time, a blip really. We have a mere moment to unapologetically embrace who we are, to share our own individual gifts with the world, to dream big, to check things off that bucket list, to fly our freak flags, to shine our light. To do otherwise seems disrespectful to whoever created us (our parents, for starters) and to the dead, who constantly remind us from the ashes on the mantel piece and the gravestones in the cemeteries that life is finite. All those names engraved in stone of people who no longer walk among us, how strange to think that our names will someday join theirs. There is no truer truth.
So maybe I don’t smoke a pack of cigarettes every day, but I do have my own bad habits — I’m quick to anger, it doesn’t take much for me to press the panic button and expect the worst, my fears are so big sometimes that they swallow me whole, I place far too much worth on what other people think of me and I spend a lot of time moaning about shit that just doesn’t matter.
I want to be stubbornly glad and fearless and fully alive. I say this with all the woowoo-but-true realisation that comes with the loss of someone. A realisation that is all too often temporary and then we get on with our lives. We carry on because we must, but we don’t have to forget the lesson. And it’s such an important lesson: death is ironic in that it shows us what it means to be alive.
I am typing this post with one hand. Wren has a cold and is sleeping in the crook of my right arm. Her hair is covered in pesto from today’s lunch. Her cheeks are the colour of crab apples in October. She sounds like a piglet with her stuffy nose. Someday, when she tells me that she wants to be a singer in a punk rock band or an astrophysicist or a circus clown or a horse whisperer, I’ll tell her that she can be whoever she wants to be, that she can do anything. I want her to always feel safe expressing who she is, to have a positive outlook, to create a life with purpose and meaning, whatever that means to her… but telling her these things won’t matter if I don’t embody these values myself.
This week, when we lower Charlie into the ground and pay our respects to a man who brought so much joy to everyone with his cheeky smile and kind ways, I want to honour him by honouring life and trying my best to kick my own bad habits.
So long Charlie, until we meet again. Heaven just became a whole lot more fun with you up there. Say hi to my dad for me, will you?