05 March 2012

Weekend of body/soul

Andrew Breitbart, you may have heard, died gasping on the asphalt in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who knows about Breitbart's work knows that this is the sort of death you would expect he might experience. I saw this video of him immediately after he died and was surprised he made it this far. Like Christopher Hitchens dying of throat cancer. Of course he died of throat cancer: it was not tragedy or destiny or unfairness. It was the empirical result of a life lived. A one-to-one correlation that screams causation.

Breitbart dying of a heart attack is to be expected. It's sad and unfortunate and terrible for his family, yes. It shouldn't be celebrated. If you celebrate it then you give into the thing about Breitbart that we all opposed so much, the notion we are all cultural warriors and our opponents as targets to be elminated. If you celebrate Breitbart's death, you accept his conception of the world, of cultural 'war' and of winning. No, I rejected Breitbart in life, I reject him in death.

Breitbart's death, the event of it, however, has captivated me, particularly thoughts of that moment from when he collapsed until the oxygen was gone from his brain and he stopped. What did he think? Perhaps he thought nothing, perhaps he was too terrified to think or reflect. But if he did, if he had a moment to think, did he realise: I've killed myself with rage.

Ruminations on death, an old, steady theme for me. I was running on Saturday morning.  It was 6:30 and I had been on the road for more than two hours. I was making the best time I had ever made on a long run, and my legs were starting to hurt, but in the sort of way muscles feel when they tear, not when you are developing an injury. I took a drink of water, my first drink of the run, and pressed on two more miles than I had planned. 20.05 miles in 2:38:13. When I got home and stood in my entry way at the bottom of the stairs, I listened to hear if the kids and Yoko were awake. My body hummed — the perfect metaphor. I pealed off layers of clothes and stretched on the kitchen floor, boiling water for coffee.

My heart beats much, much more slowly and with much less pressure than Breitbart's did. When I stand in at my computer in the quiet of the night before I go to sleep, I sometimes count the beats out of interest. My heart doesn't want or need to beat more.

Our car was 'broken into' last week. Yoko asked me if we had a word in English for what had actually happened — the door had been left open and someone rummaged through... well, nothing, as we have nothing of value in the car, Not even the ashtray or fuse tray, dumbass, but good that you looked. The 26p from the cup holder is gone, Yoko said — No, no, I said: I used that last Saturday. It was frustrating — Yoko had to call the police because I was in London all day to teach and because the door was left open, the car battery was dead. We don't have jumper leads and the neighbours didn't and, and, and... One of these dumb everyday stories that ends with, everything is fine, of course. But it was annoying.

(Funny, as I wrote this, I stopped at the sentence, Because I was in London all day. I have a part-time job that takes me to London once a week during the term. This is still a surprise to me.)

I told my dad about the car and he was much more angry than me, saying that it wasn't our fault for leaving the door open, people shouldn't break into other people's cars and going on about... well, I'm not sure in the end. It's the way things are in this part of the Milton Keynes — very petty crime some of the time. Sure, I would rather live in a society where this didn't happen, I wanted to say, but what I learned when we were broken into a couple of years ago was that these things, evil befalling you in the world, is unavoidable, doors locked or not. And, worse yet, the things that are likely to kill you, like Breitbart and Hitchens, are much, much more likely to be the things that you do to yourself, illness stemming from your lifestyle. Or, worse in terms of control, an accident or your genetics. You can build a big enough wall to keep the criminals out of your house perhaps, but when you are eating Oreos by the package behind that same wall, you are much more likely to die like Breitbart. Safe and angry.

I want so badly to cultivate a life for me and my family that is unsafe and peaceful. I want my girls to treat unfortunate things  the so-called tragedies of life  like they are: the consequences of living. Every day, no matter what you do, you are one day closer to death. It could be in seventy years, it could be this afternoon. The phone is always waiting to ring.

I want my girls to have quiet slow beating hearts, to look at the world through realistic, stoic, but still wonder-filled eyes. I want them to lock their doors, but never feel that a broken lock is a sign that the world is a bad place, or getting worse, or a threat to be avoided. I want them to stand up when they get knocked down; to be more careful, but not more cautious.

Naomi, Mei, Mia: listen to your father carefully. The world is what it is. You should try with all your might to change what you can for the better. But always, always, always realise that you are a speck, on a speck, on a speck, on a grain of sand surrounded by a vast, impenetrable universe. And if you let worry or anger or fear consume you, you will die a sad death. You have little control over when or how you will die, but you can choose to celebrate without reservation the amazing series of events that brought you to this moment, whatever moment you find yourself in.

I am, I told Yoko, ready to die. Not in a morbid or prophetic way. Not with a sense of impeding doom. I can think of numerous moments in my life that I would not like to die, after being cross with Mei in the bathtub when she doesn't want to wash her hair and I snap at her. But if my body were to stop suddenly, I will relish that last thirty seconds of oxygen, thinking back on all the mornings I have had, woken up surrounded by beautiful women in a beautiful world. About the stillness of a foggy Saturday morning in Milton Keynes, the sun just starting to come up behind me as I take step after steady step forward into the fading darkness.