“…wish you long life and prosperity” if you’re Nigerian; has become so embedded in the popular culture that it has taken on the role of a talisman impulsively uttered to ward of the spirit of death. A collective manifestation of the innate fear that we all harbor of the inevitable end of all things that have breath. We as people do not talk about death, lest her evil mercenaries that are always lurking around take our words and run with it to their master, what can I say? We are a superstitious people. Just like ‘he who must not be named’ our morbid reverence of death does nothing to remove from the fact of it’s existence. Alas, we all live it would seem to die.
I remember the first time I was in close contact with death, it was a dead body on the road; charred beyond recognition cast like a broken doll to the middle of the road, stripped of humanity, reduced to a mere traffic nuisance. As I sat in that ancient Peugeot and watched as the body moved further away from my line of sight until it was lost in the cacophony of time, I was struck by the non-humaness of the black form that lay crumpled on the floor entangled by all that was left of the rubber noose that saw it to a fiery end. I remember being more enthralled by the remnants of the grotesquerie than with the substance of it. I think about the first time that I was personally affected by death and I remember thinking about that woman on the road. I think my fascination with death was born on that day, I was in awe of something that was so final and imminent and yet largely ignored. Death is never an easy thing to contend with. I think it's the way it always takes you unawares no matter how prepared one may seem, I think it's the way you're suddenly confronted so directly with your own mortality. I read somewhere that the first emotions that new born infants feel is fear, they have been ejected so suddenly from their cocoon of motherly security so of course fear would be a logical reaction; before we are even aware of what we are are we are scared to be robbed of it.
In our billions we roam this earth, as diverse as the sands of time are countless; bound together by an end that can only be kept at bay temporarily. I think that of all the many mysteries that my time on earth has unearthed to me, death is the most logical. I do not deign to understand it of course, but I do see the point but then again I have been known to have an almost morbid fascination with the topic. Every thing that we are or that we do is somehow subconsciously tied to the fact that we are all too aware of our own mortality. The concept of time is a perfect example of mans endless attempts to make sense of existence. People who are chronically ill and on the verge of death often ask questionslike ‘how long do Ihave to live?” Which if you think about it is “how long till I’m dead’ translated by euphemism. If you take a look at the seemingly ordinary question ‘how old are you?” In the same light you would see that it translates to ‘How long till you’re naturally expected to reach your expiration”. That being said, human beings are far too complex for this innate fear of death to be the only explanation there is for all the weird things that we do but you have to admit that it does fit rather neatly into the narrative.
We are scared of death. We are scared of what comes after and some of us are scared that there is no ‘after’ to speak of. When a person dies whether young or old it’s never an easy thing to accept, which of course seems ridiculous because we’re literally engineered to die; we know it’s coming, we’ve spent civilization after civilization looking for ways not to die any sooner than we have to. It doesn’t make it any easier however, knowledge; for all it’s pomp and glory almost always never stands a chance in the face of raging emotions. As the realization of the finality of it hits you and the pain that is inside of you threatens to split you right down the middle, it matters nought that you know the biology of it and you know ‘they’re in a better place’ and that ‘God knows best’ because everything that you are is reduced to that one moment of intense pain. A moment that stretches into the next and the next and before you realize it a few years have passed and the world didn’t end. I think for me the hardest part of dealing with the death of a loved one is the fact that the world keeps right on spinning. In the moments after I received the news of the death of a most beloved uncle I was propelled into a catatonic state as I waited for the world to come crashing down around me. It did not. For the next few days I would look out the window each time and I would expect to see the whole world up in flames, I would go to bed and hope he’d visit me in my dreams. I wanted the universe to acknowledge that this great turmoil that was going on inside me was real, that it was special somehow. It wasn’t, my mother was hurting too, and his mother and his wife and all the people that loved him. Mourning him all these years has made realize that the pain that I feel is the least tribute I can pay to his memory. My pain means he existed as paltry as it often seems.
As we grow older and the prayers for long life and prosperity take on a much more serious tone, we forget that with age comes experience. Some experiences in life we choose to have, others are thrust upon us by the powers that be. Death is one of those. To live long is to watch those around you die. Some body that I have come to care very deeply about recently lost a friend, and as I watched as he tried to hold in the tide of emotions that was threatening to burst forth and shatter the facade of masculinity that has left him severely underprepared to deal with intense emotion, I was reduced to tears because that pain looked oh so familiar. I cried because there was nothing that could be said or done in all the world to shield him from that pain. I wanted to hold his hand and tell him that it was okay and that things got better with time; but he would have heard the hollowness of the words. I don't think I would have been able to pull it of because I know that the pain of loss is one that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. It hurt even more because I was only too fully aware that it would happen again and again. people die. it is what we do. As macabre as that sounds, it is the truth, not everyone is destined to live long and those that are so privileged are cursed to watch the dust reclaim loved ones with increasing frequency as old age starts to set in. I sit here with all this knowledge, as I find myself still praying for long life and prosperity.