This is the second part of this post.
BUT! I didn’t go to the 26th March march either… After over a month of gradual excitement and being halfway through making a splendid protest sign (one side pink & blue, “THIS GOV’T IS SO BAD I’M FORCED TO MISS DULWICH HAMLET FC TO BE HERE TODAY“) I didn’t turn up.
Two days previously my mum had rung me to say my grandpa has been diagnosed with cancer. Pancreatic cancer. The “silent killer”. Undiagnosed, indeed, unnoticed, for a year or so, the black mass has taken hold of him from within.
I had the chance to be driven with family to visit him. On Saturday. The 26th. The day of the march. I had a second of “ahhh, shit…” A strange mix of selfishness and civic duty. But not for long. Of course I was going.
I’ve always viewed my grandpa as something of a great man. Strong. Quick-witted. Handsome. Humorous. Silly. Cheeky. Very very charming. (If I had half of what he has I’d have half of London following the ambitious guff I write here). And given certain family complications, he filled a fair few father figure roles.
This is a ritual. Another ritual. I didn’t go to the football. I didn’t go to the protest. But I did join my family in visiting my ill grandpa. There is a hierarchy of ritual. Some you only ever play with whilst some are so entrenched that they Simply Are. They feel natural, right, part of you. So much so that I feel deeply uncomfortable writing about dying and death in a knowing, rational way.
I fear I’m devaluing my experiences, those of my family and even grandpa’s own, with this Diet Roland Bathes decodifying…
But rituals aren’t a bad thing. They are a fact of life, a vital part of our existence as social creatures. Animals who live for meaning and the buzz of connection.
I feel ashamed to say family tragedies are rituals, but I should be even more ashamed at the thought of lying and saying they aren’t.
The undercurrent to this post, though I shirk from the agony of conclusively admitting it, is that the “realness” of the emotions surrounding death are as unessential, spatiotemporal and kind of pretentious as those of celebrating a goal at a football match… But two points:
(1) Without wanting to be too postmodernist, there is probably a lack of essential truth, and even if there is one, to adhere to it would be so Sovietgrey, so joyless, so rigid that I don’t think it would be living. What moves us is all important.
And (2) Death, “the cult of death”, is the most historic, the most enshrined, the deepest foundationed ritual of all. And therefore the least escapable (not that we should wish to…) Mircea Eliade noted that prehistoric burial sites, having lasted thousands of years for archaeologists or even passers-by have survived whilst the more practical day-to-day living quarters of those ancient societies do not. It “testifies to a very important cult of the dead.” Indeed it does. As does my family’s current activity.
In a thousand years time we won’t be discussing benefit cuts or even western liberal democracy. We certainly won’t debate goalline video technology or even association football. But we will go to funerals. And we will be funereal.
So, in the struggle of three rituals, one emerged gloriously triumphant over the others. I can put it in a league table:
And as football clubs’ fans tend to claim, but seems to be true in this case, the upper echelon of this table has more history, more tradition, and are – deep in your gut – more real.
Oh, and he votes Tory…