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?