The Ball and the Wall

I just visited the shattered remains of the Berlin Wall. A five year old kid kicked a ball right beside it whilst laughing. It felt amazing.

I’ve been to Berlin for six days now, my first visit. Yesterday I walked for three hours, from our room in Kreuzberg along the river Spree and through the green Tiergarten, taking too many unnecessary turns to count.

I stay to take photos of the monument of Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart, admiring both the music and the sculptural art alike. Then I see the bullet holes hidden by restorations, and an informative sign tells me the story of Tiergarten ruins of 1945. A constant bitter sweet melody follows me through the city, as every smile is replaced by a sigh and every solemn moment is succeeded by a teary eye. Every story of a beautiful region or building is followed by further stories of a destructive war in which a planet turned onto itself, in which humanity found itself to be its utmost threat. In which the blood of millions were shed over a beautiful world and over a beautiful Berlin.

Today I saw a graph of Berlin’s population. Of 4.5 millions citizens in 1944. Apparently the German state now estimate to reach 3.75 in twenty years. I don’t fully know what to say about that.

I do know that right before I reached the corner of Ackerstraße and Bernauer Straße I walked through an empty playground which in my confused brain managed to symbolise what was to come.

Not knowing any of Berlin’s inner city structure, I didn’t know I had reached the Wall until it was right before me.

I walked along the death strip which only decades ago was mortal territory. As I reached the plaque of the faces of those who died by the Wall I started crying.

One of the boys who had died trying to escape to the other side was called Anton, and was just a couple years younger than me. I couldn’t take it and I continued walking.

As I walked back I met a young family. The five year old boy was kicking a ball and he smiled and his parent laughed. My phone beeped and I got a text from my girlfriend telling me she finished work soon and I could go get her.

My heart slowed down a bit when I realised I had to cross the death strip to get to her workplace.

On my way back the playground was filled with children let out of their local daycare. I smiled.

Day n-1: Death

A section from my (hopefully) upcoming book, ”Home”.

 


I have been thinking a lot about Death.

Yes, I guess that’s how this chapter starts after all. I guess it’s the cleanest way. The most honest way. I’ve been thinking a lot about Death.

Always.

When I was about eight or nine, my great grandmother, who I love dearly and who I will always love dearly, was… there was something wrong. I can’t remember the circumstances, being so young, but as I remember it the idea was floating around that it probably was cancer. That she was dying. They were pretty sure.

It was expected. She was old, just around eighty or so. Past her life expectancy.

At the time I was still religious (in some shape or form, read more in whatever chapter I wrote about religion). More than that, I was still a child. I have grown away from the concept of childhood since, I think, even though I might not want to admit it (see, I admitted it). So, I was a child, and, like most children, childish. And, in being childish, I believed, in some shape or form, in magic and miracles.

When I was told (or learned or something, I don’t remember) about my great grandmother’s illness (or whatever it was), I prayed. I prayed for a miracle, I prayed for a cure, I prayed for something to be a mistake. I prayed for her to live. I prayed for her to stay with us. With me.

The day after, I learned that it had been a mistake. She did not have cancer. Something was weird, but it was alright – it just seemed like cancer on the surface and when they looked deeper it was alright. She was going to live. She was going to stay with us. With me.

At that time, as you, dear PR, probably guess, I assumed it was my prayer which helped her. In hindsight, I realised that I was wrong. First of all, it is possible if not even likely that this story is all a figment of my imagination. This is how I remember things going, but it’s likely that it really went very differently. It’s just an anecdotal memory of an eight-year-old brain a dozen years later. Second of all (as I discuss in too much detail in the chapters on Science, God, Superstition and other such topics), there’s no such thing as a miracle. There’s no such thing as a cure. There are aweinspiring advances in medicine made every year, and we should thank the amazing scientists and doctors for what they accomplish with that, but they are only postponing the inevitable –

Death comes to all of us.

Death comes to all of us.

Death comes to all of us.

*

I have been thinking a lot about Death.

When I was thirteen, a classmate of mine was killed by a large wave of water crushing his body, killing him instantly. It was the 2005 tsunami, and my friend was in Thailand. I knew he was there when it happened, but only learned that he had been a victim a week or so later. I remember my mother telling me after she had taken the call. I remember not being surprised.

In hindsight, ofcourse I was surprised. My friend had died. But I had no concept of what it meant. I had no idea of what Death was. I was only thirteen, and apart from my paternal grandfather, who I had had absolutely no contact with, I had had absolutely no contact with Death.

After trauma you often go into denial, and only later crash down completely. I did so after learning my father had been in a drunk driving accident. I did so after my most severe break-up, for that matter, not realising what had actually happened until later.

The scary thing is, I don’t remember crashing after my friend died. I can still see his smile and I can still remember him much better than I can remember any other classmates I had at the time. I feel like we are closer now than we were when he was alive. And we were never that close. Death took him away, and I don’t think I ever even realised it. I don’t think I was ready. I think I am now. I am waiting to learn that any of my close friends or my brother or my father or my mother or my great grandmother has died, I am waiting to hear it and to crash. In some sense I want to crash. In some sense I want to feel it. I want it to destroy me.

In some ways I still feel guilty for never crashing after my friend died. Some days I regret not going to his funeral, even though I know he’s gone and don’t mind.

It’s not only strange to imagine he has gone. It’s impossible. I am slowly starting to realise, day by day, that Death is a real thing and not an imaginary monster god in a Lovecraft mythos. I am slowly starting to realise, day by day, that Death is coming, and that Death is eternal.

Death comes to all of us.

Death comes to all of us.

Death comes to all of us.

*

When I was maybe five or six, I lay in bed trying to sleep when
I suddenly realised that Death is for all of us.
The concept had never truly struck me before, but now it did.
I started to cry and I ran to my parents’ bedroom.
I told mom what had made me cry.

She embraced me and didn’t let me go. I think she cried too. I think she too realised – even if not for the first time – the horrifying concept in it all.

Even the most religious person must find it hard to one hundred percent believe in an afterlife.

Everyone, everyone, everyone, will be scared to look beyond the veil. It is easy to imagine a paradise.

It is easy to imagine hell.

It is even easy to imagine, like I long did, an emptiness to stand in. I long imagined Death to be an empty hall for me alone, where I could never again talk, or read, or run, or explore

I cried for hours the day I realised how wrong I was.

Death is not only an emptiness to stand in. Death is an emptiness. Death is nothing. Death is an end.

There is an old, possibly aprochyful story about a believer who asks a non-believer where we go when we die, if there is no afterlife. The non-believer (and I have heard many famous names attributed, I have no idea who it really was or if it really took place), is supposed to have said

“When I die,

I go to the same

place where I was

before I was born.”

 

This is truly horrifying in my mind. It is not only a life changing abruptly. It is not a prison camp. It is not eternal sleep. It is nothing. It is a moment of last chance of thought, and then nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

 

For in that sleep of Death, what dreams may come?

I see, I hear, none more, none less, none now.

Forever and always, together in life,

An end to all eternal stuff of dream, of love,

Of legend.

And end to all adventures, thoughts and hopes,

of Her.

 

To love, to dream, to dream no more

To sleep

Ay, there’s the rub.

To dream, to love, to love no more

To Die.

Ay, there’s the

Christopher Hitchens – Mortality (2012)

Author: Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011)
Title: ”Mortality”
Publisher: Atlantic Books
About 100 pages. £6.59 on Amazon. Read it.

It took me a long time to digest ”Mortality” before sitting down and writing this review. In short, this is a non-fiction tale of a man’s battle with cancer (or rather, as he would put it, cancer’s battle with him) and his ultimate death.

Whether or not you like Chris Hitchens’ philosophy, views on religion and his politics (I like many others agree with his views on religion but despise many of his political views), you should read this book. ”Mortality” is a collection of essays and short scribles Hitchens wrote in his last year (2010-2011) after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. True and from the heart, the reader can – at least to some extent – understand what it feels like to suddenly realise your own mortality.

The book deals (to a much lesser extent) with the thoughts of dying as a non-believer, fairly certain that nothing is to come after the final breath, that this is it. The book consists of seven essays written in Hitchens’ life time, and ends with an eight chapter of ”fragmentary jottings […] left unfinished at the time of the author’s death”.

Read it. Read it. Read it.

A great legend is dead

Few writers have been as prolific to me as Ray Bradbury. He was alongside just a few others in making me start reading properly, start truly enjoying literature and for that matter all media of culture. He was alongside just a few others in making me start make up stuff, start write my own stories and produce my own worlds.

Now he is dead.

I cried for a long time when I got the news last night. I wanted to blog, to express my thoughts and feelings towards this great man, but I couldn’t form any words. A few hours later it struck me again and I started crying again.

When I was around 10-11 my father introduced me to the short story collection ”The Illustrated Man”, a series of science fiction stories with an overarching theme. Among them were stories of traveling to Mars, which still today inspire me to study astronomy. Among them were stories of death and pain, which still today inspire my poetry and storytelling, not to mention my overarching life philosophy.

Ray Bradbury was an amazing author, and he was a fantastic human being. I will always love him dearly, and I will forever miss him, and feel the void he left in this world.

The death of another great man – Christopher Hitchens

In spite of some terrible opinions on the Iraq war, Christopher Hitchens will always remain in my heart as one of our time’s greatest journalist, and a man who could speak his mind without caring for the consequences. An atheist who gave power to all of us, and who showed us what could be in a world of reason.

Hitchens died December 15, merely 62 years old, due to complications of his long struggle with cancer, or as he called it, ”a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death”.

His last great address to the world of skeptics and atheists was published in April 2011, when he was scheduled to appear at the American Atheist convention, but was forced not to due to his illness. The entire letter can be found on Pharyngula.

I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

Leslie Nielsen dead

This was a complete shock.

Leslie Nielsen, I grew up with your films. You were one of the ones to introduce me to comedy.

Rest in peace, Leslie Nielsen, and thanks for everything.

Prop 19 fails

Just heard that the Californian Proposition 19, which was voted tonight, failed. Prop 19 would have legalized the personal usage of cannabis (marijuana). Marijuana is a drug that is perfectly healthy in the correct dosage, especially if you decide to compare it to the widely used alcohol. Not to mention, no-one has been recorded to ever die from overdose of marijuana, while alcohol every year harvest 150 000 lives, and cigarettes 400 000.

The kept illegalization of marijuana causes the exact same result as the alcohol prohibition of the 1920’s, namely great numbers of deaths per year in gang crimes, arrests of perfectly innocent people and destruction of families. And is marijuana really a gateway drug to heavier stuff? No, ask any user. But is illegalization of marijuana a gateway to heavier crime? Yes.

Edit

The Lancet's scale of harmful drugs (click to enlarge).

Tim points out in the comments that there is a paper published this Monday in the Lancet which discusses the harms of different drugs in the UK. In the general scale of the study (harm to self and to others combined), cannabis is on the eight position, after alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, metamfetamine, cocaine, tobacco and amfetamine. The study also points out how illegal drugs such as cannabis, LSD and mushrooms are much less lethal than the commonly used and legal alcohol.