ON DEATH AND LIFE AND LOVING LIFE
Welcome to my spanking new substack. I am not sure why I am doing this but you are paying to read this so why not.
The past few months have been a whirlwind. I turned 40. For the first time on my birthday, I actually did feel something. I was raised in a religion that did not celebrate birthdays. The feeling I see people have in the weeks and days leading up to their birthday is one I have never been able to relate to. I was raised, not just to ignore the day of my birth, but to find any celebration of it repulsive, an indulgence in idol worship. I shed that repulsion in my 30s and in the years since, I have only felt indifference.
This time, I felt it. I felt I was 40. I felt my life had truly taken a turn and the eyes with which I had been seeing the world had changed. For the first time, I did not feel guilty or ashamed to feel happy and positive about life, to love the space I inhabit, to love love and to love life.
Even now, however, I need to continually remind myself how far I have come.
Few things have defined this turn like my relationship with death.
Death has hovered around me for as long as I can remember. I was not yet a teenager when I found out that I might not have been the first child of my parents. Trawling my father’s bookshelf, I stumbled upon a book where family births were recorded by hand. I saw an entry, one year before my date of birth. I guessed what that record meant. I wondered if my life would have been the same were there a child before me, if I might have had the same burdens. Or if I might have even existed at all, since there is at least a two year gap between all the children in my family. Death lurked in the pages of that book and I went back to it often. There was no name. All I could think was: it died so I could be born.
Death lurked in the pages of the Bible and Bible-based publications that filled my father’s cupboard. There were graphics of god’s great war of armageddon which would destroy this wicked system of things along with all who did not strictly follow the precepts and commands recorded in the Bible and expatiated on by the religious organisation we were all devoted members of. Death leapt from the pages of the Watchtower magazines, from the book You Can Live Forever In Paradise on Earth. We were always taught how to get eternal life, it was our entire purpose — learning how to get it, and teaching it to others, lest they perish at Armageddon. Death was always there on the heels of life, for the only other alternative to eternal life was eternal death. And eternal death was easier to get. For life, one needed to get everything right: the right beliefs, the right thoughts, the right actions, consistently until one died. For death, breaking one rule after a lifetime being in line for eternal life would suffice.