It’s a sad thing but the older you get the crustier you become and the less caring you can be about what I’ve come to label “detached death”. Detached death is when someone, not in your family or immediate circle of friends passes away. Usually it’s an ex-colleague or workmate or somebody you happened to know briefly due to an artificial or transitory social situation, most likely based around your employment. You’ve probably not seen them or heard about them for while and then along comes the news, borne by someone wearing a suitably glum face that “old Bob” or “Jenny who worked the copy machine” or “Fred the truck driver” have died.
Immediately you go into respectful reflective glum mode and talk in low and serious tones. You ponder a little on your knowledge of them, try to figure out how old they were and under what terms you last saw them. You realise that you didn’t really know much about them and great swathes of their lives are imagined badly and ignorantly by you. Maybe even as a black and white movie but what else is possible, you don’t know Jack about them. Then you feign for a while. Feigning is trying to appear upset or caring when really you’re not at all affected. That person has died; you know their family will be feeling bad, all the usual things will be happening and that’s pretty terrible for them but you know that had you never seen or heard of that person ever again you wouldn’t really care. They are of course more than a face and a name or a staff number, they’re precious human beings, but they really don’t mean anything to you. Particularly now that they don’t work here, or you don’t have deal with them or worse put up with them because they were irritating. In truth they were dead already; they died the moment they quit, or retired or moved on and of course the exact same thing will happen to you when your time comes.
Here we are shuffling along like penguins, we know and recognise the ones close by, they keep us warm, protect us, we do the same for them, we laugh and chatter and journey together, we share a common love. Penguins on an ice flow making noises. Those others though, farther out to the left or the right, just a little beyond our reach are something else; they have their peer group, their helpers and their own pace. We may nod or wink or blink towards them, they may politely return but their journey is their own. When they fall we can’t halt and turn to pick them up, there are too many others in the way and we are moving away all the time, each of us caught up in our own blinkered piece of progress. So we feign, a second’s hesitation, a thimble of respect and then we go on.
I doubt if the Queen cares about the medals or awards or knighthoods she gives out, the numbers are too big, the production line is relentless, she is a machine and they are passing cogs. Clicking and whirring and having a moment, the Queen is the champion of the feign and unfortunately as I get older and cogs and wheels continue to obit at a distance or pass me by so am I. I’m sorry for anyone who has some of my detached death going on but that sorry can’t generate a real tear, can’t put me off a ham sandwich, discolour a holiday day dream or stop me looking forward to getting home. My survival instinct is strong enough to know where and when I must spend my emotions, at what point I can empathise; the odd charity, African water shortage, natural disaster or donkey sanctuary gets through but few of them stick…
It’s not religion or charity we need, it’s perspective.