Wednesday, 20 June 2012



I phoned a friend who I’ve known for 65 years. He is almost as old as me – and very ill. He lives alone a few hundred miles away and today has so little strength that he only got to the phone by falling off his chair and crossing the room on hands and knees. He sat on the floor to talk with me – wondering if he could clamber back to his chair. He will phone an ambulance if needed. He greatly fears death; a terror that may be keeping him fearfully alive when all energy, belief and hope has drained away.

I know that he has secretly lived in great fear all his life since early childhood. But most of his friends would not know that. They know him as a brilliant, cynical, prickly, internationally successful, alarming heavyweight street fighter. A man you regret getting into an intellectual argument with – and a stranger you, unnecessarily in his case, cross the road to avoid on a dark night.

And now he fears death – oblivion, the end of everything.

Do I fear death? I am older, no wiser and maybe nearer the exit than my tired, sad friend. Like him, I am a lapsed, recovering Catholic, with no religious faith left. Unlike him I tend to J N Barrie’s brave insight “Death must be an awfully big adventure.” My lesser IQ and my perhaps flawed logic allow me to claim, unlike him, that the universe and life are not purposeless and meaningless. I have an older brother who died recently - which was polite of him, to keep an orderly queue by age – shortly after a near-death experience “more real than life” that removed his fear of dying. My inner personal reassurance rests on a multitude of experiences, some “meetings with remarkable men” (and women), and a little scientific learning; which informs me that our essence, our light, is perpetual and as eternal as is the universe – until the end of days.

My friend is too exhausted and too preoccupied to ponder any theories of life. He is almost completely closed off. Others may find some insight or inspiration:

But however much I respect his rigorous, cynical, clever but now blinkered mind – I fervently wish he could replace his fear with tremendous wonder and die in the perhaps hallucinatory comfort of the ephemeral arms of his once all-caring Catholic guardian angel.  I privately weep for him. Is this a prayer?

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