India Uncut

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

'Enjoy every sandwich'

Birth is a death sentence, but we are naturally in constant denial of that fact, and are not even allowed, legally, to expedite the matter. (Your life doesn't quite belong to you, you see.) When I turned an atheist from an agnostic -- shortly before this experience, which strengthened my nonbelief -- that was the hardest issue I had to grapple with: accepting that death was death. No souls, no afterlife, no heaven or hell or rebirth, just nothing. It's a terrifying thought, and perhaps the main reason why people believe in the various fictions that star God: because our own mortality is so fricking hard to accept. Is that all we are, we ask, flesh and bones and blogs?

Kind Friend just forwarded me a link to a piece in the Guardian on Annie Leibovitz's book, "A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005." The book includes photographs of Leibovitz's time spent with her friend, Susan Sontag, including pictures from the time when Sontag lay dying on her hospital bed.
Leibovitz was by Sontag's bedside when she was receiving treatment for cancer. The hardest photos in the book relate to these times, and before deciding to publish them, Leibovitz consulted a small circle of Sontag's friends. There was controversy within the group, but in the end they supported a decision to publish. Leibovitz wanted to show what illness looks like and what courage looks like, too. "She didn't want to die. She put up... She wanted to live. She wanted to write more books. That last year of her life, she fought this fight, it was unbelievable. And she was so brave. It was amazing. It was too much. There's this question: how can you publish these pictures? Well, you could never publish them while she was alive. But she's dead. And that's the bottom line."
The bottom line indeed. How death must concentrate the mind. I can't imagine how I'd react if told that I had just months to live: would I do the things I do with more urgency, or would I feel that doing anything was pointless now? Would I try to squeeze all possible joy into spending time with my loved ones, or would I withdraw into myself, typically morose and depressive? Would I blog? What would I write?

Maybe I'd take inspiration from Warren Zevon. Told that he had a terminal disease, Zevon refused treatement that "he believed might incapacitate him, while at best, prolonging the inevitable," and started recording his final album, The Wind. It's quite an album, and I especially love the last song, "Keep Me In Your Heart." It never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I listen to it, and if I'm in company, I feverishly look around for onions to cut. Any excuse to avoid letting the world know that I'm a sentimental softie.

Anyway, I must go and shop soon. I was trying to go easy on sugar intake, but a Frappe at Subway is unavoidable after such depressing thoughts. And why does Subway serve a better Frappe than Barista or Cafe Coffee Day? Most curious.

PS. The title of this post, by the by, is something Zevon said during his last days. "And enjoy every Frappe too," he might have added, "because life ain't sweet like that."

Update: Sunil Bajpai writes about how he was once told, in 1987, that he had "acute lymphatic leukemia" and "it was about 80% chance that I had no more than 6 months." The diagnosis was changed and he has survived to blog the tale. He remembers a couple of his visitors when he was living under the shadow, and it was Diwali:
A friend of mine brought me a wonderful, home-cooked dinner on the festival evening and stayed behind till it was bedtime. I was also visited by a rocket that strayed into the wards and died there without exploding.
The simple things...
amit varma, 2:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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