What is a life well lived? “The greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it. This is a form of hope that we can all achieve, and it is the most abiding of all. Hope resides in the meaning of what our lives have been,” wrote surgeon and bioethicist Sherwin Nuland in his Foundational Treatise On Mortality.
He carries on saying, “The real event taking place at the end of our life is our death, not the attempts to prevent it. We have somehow been so taken up with the wonders of modern science that our society puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It is the dying that is the important thing — the central player in the drama is the dying man.”
Believe me, every human being craves recognition. As a Liverpool supporter, I hate to use Sir Alex Ferguson as an example but it is true that at the time that he managed to knock us off our “fucking perch” of 18 titles, his abiding wish was that were his father be still alive to see it, it would have made for even greater pleasure. After all, it took him 25 years to achieve since making the vow. I have to offer grudging respect.
When Alex Ferguson dies, foes and friends alike will rise as one to salute him for his achievements in one of the most competitive football leagues in the world. Others will not be so lucky in the recognition stakes. There are some, right now, who have reigned for decades who are vainly trying to force death back. This is one area where, I am afraid, rigging does not work. You cannot cheat death. It is inevitable and so to go back to our opening paragraph, how then do you want to be remembered?
The greatest irony in conquering for so long lies in not dying in peace because you are so afraid to let go that you continue to suffer from the embarrassment that comes with the rigours that are compulsory to hanging on to a position of authority. Instead of receiving well-wishers and future leaders for a bit of counselling, you are spending your time smoking out enemies everywhere. Every shadow is a looming threat, every whisper a voluminous alarm, often false and every suggestion of your impending death greeted with glee when it should be met with sorrow and supplication for a peaceful passing on to the afterlife. It is not a great place to be is it, being a prisoner of the excesses of your own life?
It could have been different of course. You could have chosen a better path. The road well-travelled of legacy that has been the hallmark of many great individuals from the Medici brothers in Florence to Nelson Mandela in Qunu you, too, could have millions of people marvelling at your great works forever and a day. But there is nothing is there? Absolutely nothing! Not a drop of water, a major construction project or a sustainable intangible product. Most have fled, others have stayed behind not out of choice but stuck unable to flee but despising you for the misery you have wrought upon their wretched lives. There can’t be any satisfaction in this!
Now, it is too late to let go. You have to keep hating the world, pouring venom at anyone who dares disagree with you. Using, abusing, using, abusing, constantly looking for new tricks to offer anyone who would stand by you, failing to deliver, offering new tricks and, possibly, just possibly wondering why death won’t mercifully take you away, quickly! The universe does not work that way. Maxi Priest, yes we do quote popular music, sings, “you throw the ball against the wall, you get ball back from the wall, love against the wall, it comes back to you and if you throw hate against the wall, it will follow you, so what are you going to do, to ease the pain?”
It is indeed too late, especially when even those closest to you abuse you. It is a lonely time, a time of sadness, regret and private intimate recriminations on how a better choice could have yielded a better result. It is too late now. You must live the rest of your life in fear, bitter bile welling up from inside a dark place more afraid than the fear you once foisted on others, on millions of others. It can’t be easy being an ageing dinosaur when other little ferocious T-Rexes are coldly nibbling at each other…and at you.
Nuland concludes, “for dying patients, the hope of cure will always be shown to be ultimately false, and even the hope of relief too often turns to ashes. When my time comes, I will seek hope in the knowledge that insofar as possible I will not be allowed to suffer or be subjected to needless attempts to maintain life; I will seek it in the certainty that I will not be abandoned to die alone; I am seeking it now, in the way I try to live my life, so that those who value what I am will have profited by my time on earth and be left with comforting recollections of what we have meant to one another… Whatever form it may take, each of us must find hope in his or her own way.”
Ain’t going to happen for you mate.