Mind over matter

He was born into abject poverty and deprivation. His youth was blighted by brutal oppression and shocking bereavement. He contracted polio at age 17 and spent two years seriously ill in hospital. For over 75 years he lived in a filthy, polluted city inhaling poisonous air and toxic nuclear particles. He was entirely sedentary and never did a day’s exercise of any description, not even the short walk to the local shop, hiring handymen to do the manual jobs around his home and driving everywhere. He worked as a travelling salesman, stepping from the front door straight into his company car and spending the working day sitting behind a steering wheel breathing traffic fumes. He lived with malignant cancer for over five decades, requiring more and more frequent radiotherapy and aggressive surgical interventions to contain the tumours. He ate a narrow spectrum of unremitting meat-and-two-veg stodge and sugary puddings, evolving over the years into over-processed ready-meals and guzzled treats. He didn’t have a single friend in the world. He was unable to ever express emotion. He was utterly without a sense of humour. He had difficult, hostile, dysfunctional and unsatisfying relationships with his parents, his three children, his wider family, his colleagues and his neighbours. His marriage was a case-study in patriarchal domination that inexorably crushed his meek pre-feminist wife until she was a helplessly dependent cripple riddled with arthritis and Alzheimer’s. In his 80s he watched her decline through years of thankless toil and extreme stress culminating in devastating sorrow when she died. Alone, ravaged by time, increasingly disabled and senile, he was left to the tender mercies of the private care industry, his non-existent immune system showered in coronavirus droplets by an ever-changing roster of overworked, underpaid staff on zero-hours contracts. His life was over. He had outlived 99.9% of everyone else born in 1924. Yet still he did not die.

He is, to all intents and purposes, immortal.

This immortality negates all the established, accepted truths of health experts and all those well-being nostrums about exercise, diet, environment, long-term disease, isolation, support networks, happiness and mental attitude. He is living proof that there is something much more crucial to survival than those factors: sheer willpower.

Here then is the truth about death, a truth I do not want to be true: it is a choice. Those annoyingly judgmental platitudes about “bravely” “fighting” and “beating” disease, with their implicit sub-text that only cowards, weaklings and losers die, turn out to be inadvertently accurate.

His implacable, immovable, immense determination to never die has actually trumped death. At some level, to die is to surrender, to admit defeat, to let go, to give up, to give away and to give in. But such characteristics and behavioural traits are simply not in the repertoire of such an extreme rightwing might-is-right autocrat, Powellite long before ‘Enoch’, Thatcherite long before ‘Maggie’, Brexiteer long before ‘Boris’, with fear of otherness coursing through his white supremacist, British exceptionalist, warmongering veins. Here is another dreadful, unbearable truth revealed by his indestructible heart, a heart that can always summon up another beat: contrary to the cosy homilies of self-congratulatory human delusion, kindness, decency and love are qualities that are completely incompatible with survival. The runt of the litter starves; the lame gazelle perishes; nice guys come last; wicked bastards win; only the good die young.

Now, with death stalking humanity and the Earth itself, the lessons of his awful life are more pertinent than I could ever have imagined in my worst nightmares. Everything is galloping towards a terrible denouement in a ghastly synchronicity that suits him perfectly. What, after all, could be better for a man so pathologically self-centred that he’s been working on his own epilogue for the last 20 years, a man so egotistical and controlling that he cannot bear the idea of a world without himself, than for him to outlive the entire planet? He intends to see us all off the premises, and I wouldn’t put it past him.

Who am I talking about? Oh, no-one in particular…