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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dying for it

It is a prevailing feature of these blogs. Ruminations on the nature of death. Obviously I have a personal interest, growing more so as the end of my candle burns a now disproportionate path and, judging by a growing readership, so do you, whatever condition your own tallow is in! Maybe it’s life imitating art, but the rather public death dance of Jade Goody is followed by the media and their audiences with an obsessive vicariousness that needs some attempt at explication. Curiously, switching TV channels, here in London, I also found myself listening to Patrick Swayze talking of his own battle to press back the perimeter of his life. His face displayed the lines of the warrior in the midst of his final battle. His cancerous cells were, to his mind, intelligent enemies, changing form like wraiths as they sought the more vulnerable channels through his body. Whereas, Goody projects an almost religious novice’s beatific radiance, her shaven head adding to the image of almost nun-like otherwordliness. Hers is an acceptance of what is to be and a grasping at the drama of living it, bathed in the sympathetic eyes of a population not given to absorption with death.

I am looking at that last sentence. Yes, I feel it is true, death being the last taboo, particularly if it is twinned with old age. Thus, it takes the virtually lived deaths of public figures to seduce audiences into the dreaded discourse on mortality that is normally evaded by wilful acts of denial. In Jade Goody’s brief tenure on a public’s imagination, her chosen behaviour at the end seems to have touched a hidden nerve of admiration and empathy among many. She had already achieved a kind of fame with her brash insensitivities and street-wise, broad-brush repartee, becoming one of the many who become TV generated icons, gained without any gift other than her will and her larger than life representation of a particular slice of humanity . How many girls now see celebrity in similar vein?

One can do no other than wish her well and wonder if a miracle might occur for her. At the same time, there is a lesson from her transient, screen life as there is with Patrick Swayze’s. Their last curtain calls bring home the realisation that we tend not to think about our own final hours until they are ticking by on the face of an actual clock beside us.

One of my management clients, a heart doctor, as it happens, replied as follows to a patient questioning him, in a piece of dialogue that could have been taken from a dark comedy:
“Who wants to be a hundred?” asked the patient.
“A ninety nine year old, usually,” replied the surgeon.


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