Dying was something to be defied. It was a line from William Trevor that had prompted the thought. In one of his darker tales, he had written of a man entering eternity feet first. The thought of dying had been chilling. I was twenty-eight and came to the conclusion that I should be more vigorous in my efforts at life.
The following year, I had moved from being a curate to being in charge of my own parish, a tiny rural community on the Lecale peninsula in Co Down. A timeless place, it was somewhere that life was not lived at a rush.
A memory remains of a planting of trees. They were tucked into the fold of a hill and provided shelter for sheep from the neighbouring field in the wintertime. They were young trees, when I first met them the diameter of the trunks would have been no more than a few inches. I had stood and looked at them as I walked my dogs one summer’s evening; they seemed almost frail, too weak and immature to face the hardships of this world. But I looked at the rolling drumlin scenery around me, unchanged in generations, and thought that the dangers they would face would be few. Barring some catastrophe, they would sit there under the cover of the hill for decades to come. The trees would be there when I was long gone.
The thought of being outlived by anonymous trees had seemed depressing and I had hurried on.
Picking up a wooden-handled breadknife at lunchtime today, I realised that it had been used by my parents for as long as I could remember, that it had probably been a wedding present, meaning that it was sixty-one years old. Talking to an inanimate object is a silly activity, but I said to the knife, “you are like those trees, you are probably going to outlive me.”
Thirty years ago, the idea of being outlasted by a kitchen implement would have seemed even more depressing than being outlived by a tree, today it seemed an upbeat thought.
One of my aunts came for tea this afternoon, eighty tomorrow, she is the third among the siblings to reach that milestone. On the basis of heredity, I reckon I have perhaps twenty or twenty-five years, a thought that is not one to be defied, but one that encourages a seizing of the day, including, at this moment, finishing reading the final story of William Trevor’s final book.