Insubstantial days

Jun 6th, 2007 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Drowsily reading Ian McEwan’s Saturday last night, I got stuck at the foot of page six. The main character has been reading a biography of Darwin.

“At times this biography made him comfortably nostalgic for a verdant, horse-drawn, affectionate England; at others he was faintly depressed by the way a whole life could be contained by a few hundred pages – bot­tled, like homemade chutney. And by how easily an exis­tence, its ambitions, networks of family and friends, all its cherished stuff, solidly possessed, could so entirely vanish”.

Lives can disappear much faster than that. I remembered the words of a distraught parent who once said to me, “Go home tonight and hug your children because a moment might come when they are not there to hug.

Existences can vanish entirely, in an instant, without warning. Sleepily I tried to recall my favourite lines from The Tempest

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep”.

At which point I think I fell asleep.

McEwan’s words came back with menace this morning, “an exis­tence, its ambitions, networks of family and friends, all its cherished stuff, solidly possessed, could so entirely vanish”. The words came back with news that a friend’s fiancé, a good and kind and gentle and quiet man, died tragically.

How could a life just vanish?

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