– By James Martin “The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) …
“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE)
In opening, I want to explain that I write this in the memory of a best friend’s mum, who has just recently passed away. Nothing can bare grace to the loss he is feeling. I know that the below will go some way to explaining my experience of loss both to him and others. I am become death, bringer of humanity and inevitability.
Let me start selfishly by telling you about my day. I suppose it was an unusual day to start off with. Up at 7 am (for an evening shift worker, I found out this was the other ‘7 o’clock’ in the day), queue for a shower at home, late out of the house, stopped by all and sundry for directions on the way to the train station, problems with the train. Late summed it up. The fates had that in store today, ‘late’ was the first of today’s euphemisms. Today was unusual as I was travelling to London (from Manchester) to help set up a Social Media campaign for a festival in the memory of the Matchgirls Strike in 1888 (Running from 1st-7th July 2013). It’s always something travelling somewhere, especially for such a great cause, to London as well, on a Pendolino, ‘very posh’ I can hear my late Grandma say, though I never heard her say the word ‘posh’ in my life.
Travelling is not what it makes out to be, despite friends thinking it is leisurely. It’s a lot of time spent sat down with a book or some other kind of (electric) device to entertain you. Plane or train, there is a kind of inevitability that at some point you will stare out of the window deep in thought, the time where your most secret thoughts can be organised and understood. My reason for travelling was The Matchgirls. Some may ask who were the Matchgirls, what am I on about? Other than personal heroines of mine, and I suppose this summary doesn’t do them justice – they were a group of courageous women that stood up against adversity, against tyrannical management at Bryant and May in 1888, against suffering and ‘phossy jaw’, against the worst of humanity making a quick buck out of the suffering of others, money before any shred of humanity.
With this in mind, I suppose you could say that my journey to London was always going to be about the memory of those that have passed. It was. About half way to Euston, I received a text from a friend, explaining how he was suffering from the loss of his mother the day before. I was about 15 minutes staring out of the window before I realised I had tears running down my cheek, if I’m honest it was only last year I lost 7 people very close to me, best friends included, nothing prepares you for the isolation of death. For me, my haunting is the last few words I said to my Grandma (my other Mum), my horrified and terrified words that made her cry before I said my final selfish goodbye. Nothing can make you feel more vulnerable than goodbye, nothing more human that regret.
From the station, the tube journey, a lonely experience at the best of times, was one of realisation. Time is a predator that stalks us all our lives; we seem to be hunted by it. There was something unfair about it all though, not in death itself I suppose, a problem with just how many funerals I had been too, I thought I was the angel of death for a while, now it was hurting friends, too much death.
Well, the meeting I went to was very productive, inspirational if I’m honest. It really emphasised the importance of history, community and our memory of those fallen. There was still my problem though, it kept nagging me like a bad itch and my friend had just lost his mum. The problem wasn’t apparent until the meeting ended. You see I’m one of those dirty smokers and after meeting true inspirations, for me the obligatory after meeting cigarette with a comrade and my ‘self adopted dad’, really did help me understand my ever more selfish and consuming problem. It was this. Had I suffered so much loss in the past year that I had become numb to it, that I couldn’t permit a tear to fall, would my friend now too? Were those we had lost just to be condemned to names placed on some almanac or census? Yet I understood that those that we have lost were more than just names; they were people that shaped us – That continue to shape us.
One thing I have to say is that far too many people in this ‘new millennium’ of ours have died despite available preventatives. Too many times do we read in the paper, on Twitter, on Facebook of people that have died so unnecessarily, friend or not. We console ourselves with soft words, the euphemism of the day – ‘Passed away’ or ‘taken from this life’, really they are nothing other than pathetic euphemisms for ‘death’ and ‘taken from this society’.
How many times do we have to read headlines that a person has died in Bangladesh due to ship breaking, died in Turkey due to a Government clamp down on a protest or due to the disabled having their already pitiful state support being removed a ‘little closer to home’, before we stop and take heed that ‘people dying’, ‘food banks’, ‘the homeless’ has in fact become a euphemism itself for the failure of society? At what point did the death of any citizen not become headline news? At what point did society cease to be ‘people living in an ordered society?’
I must admit, my train journey was politely interrupted by my new edition of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ and I hope you can forgive me for thinking it was a recent publication, especially with the new Tony Benn foreword (2012). My anger for those with nothing other than the love of money and austerity were always going to be close to the boil today, now living in an austere society that makes us hate ourselves and love ‘their’ money instead, the workplace replacement of people (humans) as just a number in particularly. Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and la Royaume-Uni, all examples of countries with Governments hell bent on austerity, savage cuts to the services the poor (us) rely upon, simply to placate and ingratiate the greed of those that gambled and schemed their way in to profit and, now heavy loss. Bond Markets, Banks and tax dodging corporatism.
The message of austerity has been spread within each countries population, like some sickening advert only Starbucks could be proud of, sold as an idea that ‘the nations debts are like repaying a national credit card’. Too many right wing governments now occupy Europe, and occupy is the right word, none of them having approval ratings above 40%, yet with impotent opposition parties buying in to cuts despite alternatives, hammering home potential cuts that would have a direct impact upon those not wealthy enough to avoid paying tax in the first place. Little hope for many. The ‘post war consensus’ is that the number one priority of ANY government is the protection and welfare of its citizens. It’s the principle tenet of the welfare system in the UK, our modern Magna Carta. In the UK, the idea of an NHS (National Health Service) is one of the few institutions that Britons literally fought to create and for many, die in the arms of. Please don’t mistake me; I am a Brit after all, many Brits will complain about the service, we do like to complain – some legitimately, others by being typically British and sending a strongly worded letter (I say this in jest) – yet for the British majority, it protects us from cradle to grave. I know no friends or family that it hasn’t. It’s a creation of our welfare system, a welfare system that gave us an idea of some kind of ‘National Mum’. It removed the ‘want’ of healthcare after its birth; and at the time of writing, provides the hope of health. I say at the time of writing because the Tories have privatised most of it, money before health, kept the logo and placed the users of the system at risk.
With this in mind, Opposition parties in Europe, mainly on the centre-left, seem to have been out flanked by the mantra of ‘paying off the nations credit card’ by embracing ‘austerity light’, instead of some the alternatives that were adopted straight after the last World War, universal welfare for example. Of course to those wondering how to pay for this, coming from a modern context, I remind them of the Robin Hood tax, Bankers bonus tax, I would also ask of the more questioning, the point of the Second World War if we end up living in a corporate hegemony?
The post war consensus, is in savage irony, completely besieged. No Tory “Industrial Charter” exists anymore, the consensus that the state will offer some form of support to those in need has evaporated, again opposition parties seek to curry favour by dividing welfare between the wealthy and not. In fact if you go by pollsters (too few Union members answer these polls), most of those needing support are in the top percentile of those that have turned against the idea of universal welfare, supporting a two tier system – one for the poor, one for the rich. It seems we are back to Tressells ‘divide and rule’.
Of course we in the UK pretend that Europe wasn’t there, at least by current Government standards. We Ignore the centuries of public debt accumulated from war, the fact that after 1945 it was up to 10 times and more the debt currently owed in the United Kingdom, that every person in the UK reading this has prospered or no with this debt, seems to bypass most, especially the press. We ignore the very European idea of a national debt.
The idea of the Government protecting its citizens seems to have taken second place to Government debt repayment and ensuring that markets ejaculate every so often. Ministers talk of returning the UK to profit, countries are not designed to make profit, businesses are – This should be a major distinction, not amalgamation.
With this in mind, I write this with a burden. If I’m honest, it’s a burden that I haven’t been able to locate myself until today. I got back from London, met up with my friend and others, and let me be honest – It took a look in the eye of a grieving friend to make me understand my problem a little clearer. Not an easy thing to admit to.
I write this article to remember the dead. It’s a harsh reality that I say this, but ultimately, if you have read this far, not that I will have children of my own, your grandchildren and their children will probably only remember your name, perhaps your date of birth and, if ‘Ancestry.com’ is still running, information from your future census records. I suppose, your name can only explain your DNA, it will never explain who that person is, what bad days at work they had, what daily struggles they faced, what their political opinion was. As I have mentioned before, too many people die with horrifying complacency. Just because somebody died 3000 miles away, doesn’t mean for one minute that a person grieving that loss doesn’t feel 3000 miles away from anyone. The headline doesn’t hit the surface of who the late person was.
I am determined to try and give those who have lost someone irreplaceable some kind of understanding, that most people deliver hope – I appreciate now, that without hope there is little but emptyness. When we look back at those that have shaped our society, died at an instant for the things that we now hold dear, or for those that fought and passed in due time, the fact that you are reading this demonstrates that you are a descendent of somebody that shaped our society. Tiberius Gracchus, John Rykener, Wat Tyler, John Lilburne, Robert Owen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Annie Besant, Fergus O’Connor, Emmeline Pankhurst, I would imagine that these are all names you may or may not recognise, but names not to be condemned to oblivion by not hearing or reading about their story, they are apart of the secret of who we are.
These people have shaped society, but no less than those that have gone before us. History ought never to be confused with nostalgia. When we lose someone close to us we struggle with the immediacy of loneliness and the devouring feeling of our finite life. Whist nothing can ever bring those we have loved and lost back, their memory, their impact of a moment we now treasure, is something so precious in shaping us as individuals, and with this it shapes society. It shapes us too. We worry about our legacy.
I have to close with this. The next time you read that somebody has committed suicide due to a cut in benefits, that a loved one has passed away or that a preventable death has gone unprevented, please remember that it isn’t another statistic of mortality, it’s a destroyed family. When you hear of the starving at a food bank, don’t offer pity, offer hope. Robert Tressell commented that it wasn’t the Tories that were the danger, that the danger was the people sat discussing unfair society, whilst doing nothing to better society. Its in this I close, that those lost, family or friend, we carry their memory. We are their memory. We all become their memory.
“No Mum, I’m not alright, but I think I will be” – James Martin, around 20 minutes after writing this.
– For Jono
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