I’m reading what is turning out to be an intriguing and quietly powerful book right now – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. And, unusually, I’m bookmarking certain passages. Here’s one:
Takeshi was convinced that it was the survivors, the people left behind, who gave death a face. That without them, death would be nothing more than an ugly word. Ugly but, deep down, harmless.
What a myriad of thoughts, reactions, little side roads of consideration that quote has set off. And how true – we all tend to contemplate our own deaths with apprehension, but with nothing like the alarm we feel when thinking of when our own nearest and dearest will depart and exist only in the past tense. Do we have the capacity to look upon death dispassionately and therefore take the power out of the word? Probably not.
And for some reason I recall Anthony Trollope’s 1882 novel The Fixed Period. This concerns a country whose rulers decide that it would be good for the ongoing health and vitality of the nation that its inhabitants should be gently euthanised with honour at a certain fixed age. Like pruning a bush or deadheading flowers. The logic is embraced and the law unanimously approved. Inevitably doubts creep in as the first of the citizens approach the age decided on. Should there not perhaps be exceptions if, say, the person in question is in perfect health and his continued existence and acquired experience is in fact of benefit to the country? Inevitably the whole thing falls apart. I wonder if Trollope meant it to come across as humorously as it actually did?
But that novel, and one or two others since, imply that death – planned or unplanned – might be accepted as merely an extension of life and thus become merely a harmless word, though perhaps an ugly one.