Featured art by Amy Ballinger. Click title image to visit her studio.
Mortality & Other Pastimes is an introspective piece exploring loss written in January 2018 which has remained unpublished until now.
Listen to Suggested Audio
Porcupine Tree “Shesmovedon”
Death eventually comes to us all. Now there’s a sobering thought to kick us off with. While many other rites of passage are very much possible to abstain from, there is no getting away from the fact that, one day, every last one of us is going to die. When or how this will come about is a mystery no amount of foresight or resolve is ever likely to solve. Our existences are bookended for a reason, that being to provide us both a distinct start and an end. Whatever happens in-between hinges largely on the choices we make and certain decisions can undoubtedly have a hand in writing our epilogues. But by and large, when our number is up, it’s up. And, unless we choose to orchestrate our own demises purposely, there is not a damn thing we can do about it.
Some digest this bitter little pill considerably better than others. There are those who live their entire lives in grave fear of the reaper, while others appear more equipped for the one be all that invariably ends all. Much depends on how often we are touched by tragedy in our lifetimes as luck has been known not to act the lady. The more loved ones we mourn, the more life hits the point home that special treatment was never part of the deal. We traditionally grow wiser as there are more candles to blow out, or at least, that is the general idea. Regrettably, a fair number of us cease learning at a point and any wisdom is duly rendered null and void. But the majority of us find at least some modicum of peace with the very coldest of life facts. The one of eventual release.
Where do greykeeper stand on whole life and death debate? Well, we are as comfortable with it now as we are ever going to be. Make no mistake, neither one of us are quite ready for the ultimate curtain call just yet, but we already know damn well that death is not the end for us, any more than our births signalled our beginnings. Perhaps this is why we felt and saw things differently from the other kids in class. Why we found their trivial pursuits uninspiring. It was almost as though we had been to this curious place before, albeit in another time entirely, and this may explain our hyper-intense fascination with all things paranormal from such tender ages.
This isn’t to suggest that we deprived ourselves of Sesame Street. But we couldn’t deny the allure was greater to learn of Osborn Street, Whitechapel, where the notorious Jack The Ripper shoved a blunt object deep into a prostitute’s vagina, and other suchlike terrible terraces. Naturally, there were those who harbored concerns over how we’d turn out further down the line and a great number of these were predictably members of the faculty. Employed to guide us towards the straight and narrow, they tend not to include the left-hand path in their ham-fisted curriculum. Which would explain why we abhorred their indoctrination and hissed at the system at every opportunity.
Let us be Crystalline clear on this – we are most grateful for the “basic education” we received and for the bare boned number of educators who spotted our creative potential and nurtured it, as opposed to stifling it. But not so for the numerous meat puppets whose voices became wallpaper to us over time. Life outside the academy proved far more enlightening and, by the time our hormones kicked in full brunt, we knew just how callous it could be. The challenges we faced may have been markedly different, but the way we were rough-handed into growing up in quick time certainly wasn’t. This wasn’t a bad thing per se, although the events fast-tracking us were unquestionably downright horrendous, as they equipped us for the true route before us. And one thing placed front and centre of agenda was death.
Both of us have surrendered personal heroes, in similarly cruel manners, and there is no question these events have shaped who we are today. That being said, while we have been tarred with the “mental illness” brush, the path we walk together hand-in-hand is one of considerable cognitive wellness. What is crazy? Is it a straitjacket and spotless mind? Heading out to pick up our groceries in just our pajamas? Talking to ourselves in plain sight of others? That’s the first telltale sign of madness, right? Which would likely explain why our first spoken verse as infants was “right then, how the fuck do I get out of this Moses basket?” or words to that effect. We knew we were over-the-borderline crazy. Just needed to reach a time and place where we could celebrate this openly, without being burned at the stake for it. Said time and place happened to be a rather significant new moon along the one pathway which led someplace serene. In the presence of one symmetrically unhinged – an identical lunatic perched upon the fringe.
That’s the thing about reaching a point in your life when there is nothing left to lose and, while this is commonly referred to as the point of no return, we actually had no great burning desire to. Return to what? A bounty of immense disappointment and crippling emotional angst? No thanks, we’d rather have been toe-tagged than branded like lambs when we evidently weren’t part of the flock. And had absolutely no inclination to be shepherded back to our cramped enclosures. Then, once we granted one another unfiltered exposure, we discovered that we still had less than zero to lose. You see, this love of ours existed long before our “human” conception. Thus, it would take more than anything life can serve up to stand to lose shit now, even in its most mean-spirited tenor. Suddenly last winter, we were provided a free spin for the ultimate roulette wheel and had valid reason to bet on black. For we had now doubled up our chip stack.
Therefore, while the shadow of death still looms large like the unknown quantity that it is, it’s no longer quite the stranger. It cannot tear us apart, and even if it did temporarily, then we’d have one hell of a reunion to look forward to. There will still be losses to contend with, indeed, we’ve both been required to do precisely that, all too recently. But, having been dictated to by mortality on so many occasions, we bid to grieve any departures in our own personal way. After all, life is about living and learning, is it not? And, it is commonly regarded as too short. So we figure lifelong celebration trumps drawn-out periods of yearning. We wear every pain in life as a scar and do so with monumental pride. For this means any dear departed will forever be close by. Death eventually comes to us all. There is no cheating it once we discern the glint of the scythe. However, since securing a new skin which accommodates us both, compliments of the left-hand path, it is no longer quite so unbecoming.
Ultimately, we all believe what we wish to believe – whatever gets us through. Whether we trust that it is not the end or consider death to mean game, set and match may appear to matter not in the endmost scheme of things; but preparation is key to finding the inner peace we all strive for. Those we have cherished and lost wouldn’t wish for us to flounder in their memory, they’d want to see us make the uppermost of whatever time we have left, and would show immense disgust should we fail to do just that.
Besides, those we have cherished and lost can still be very much found. And that is simply the greykeeper way. Alas, this isn’t a one-size fits all kind of deal. Otherworldly connections are frightfully few and far between and we consider ourselves blessed to have and hold something so inexplicable. But our theory does make sense, should comfort be in short supply. And this is why we shall implement this way beyond the day that we die. Our ashes may be ashes, our dust mere dust, but our particles shall remain timelessly entwined. Thus, while death does indeed come to us all, we shall never ever die.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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