Death is on my mind. I can’t really concentrate. My attention drifts.
I am not ill (to the best of my knowledge) but I think about my own end. How it might transpire. If it will be painful, and whether I will be frightened.
Will it come soon? Or is it some way off? Whether it comes to me now or later (obviously I hope the latter), it weighs on my mind – on my whole being, for that matter – and drags me down. A general depression, or a sort of flattening, takes effect.
Then I see a wood pigeon pecking around my backyard. It’s extremely fat and carries itself in a way that I imagine any self-respecting wood pigeon would – with haughty disdain for other creatures and transparent, uncaring greed. Wood pigeons are a little like unhinged aristocratic lords who are happy to shoot poor people as the grease dribbles from their chin.
I stand up to watch the pigeon.
‘Hello,’ I say.
The wood pigeon, aloof and superior, thinks I am not worthy of its attention. (Which, in fairness, I am probably not.)
‘I was just thinking about death,’ I tell the pigeon.
The pigeon doesn’t respond. Instead, it hunts in the cracks of the buff paving slabs for something else to fill its capacious stomach.
‘I expect it doesn’t bother you too much. Not that it really bothers me that often. Just every now and then. Sorry, it’s not a very cheerful topic, I know.’
The pigeon raises and cocks its head, holding out the prospect that it might have heard me and is about to reply. Except it doesn’t reply. It’s more likely that it has heard a noise, which could announce a threat. When I observe this, I reflect:
‘You see, some would say that’s the right response. Keep your head down, survive while you can, and only worry when there’s some sort of threat. Don’t sit on the sofa worrying about the unknown.’
The pigeon twitches its head with the same casual indifference.
‘Yes, I know. You’re right.’
I watch the pigeon for a little while, hopeful it might become more engaged.
‘Entities shall not be needlessly multiplied. I know, I know. It’s just sometimes you can’t help it. I mean, it’s natural in a way to think about death. Everyone faces it. And if philosophers are to be believed, we shouldn’t necessarily feel too disconcerted by it. Foucault, after he had been in a car accident and came close to dying, said that death was nothing to worry about. His ideas have a lot of traction in the university sector, though he hasn’t received the same reception in popular culture. Not in the UK, anyway. Have you read any Foucault? Of all his books I preferred the third volume of the History of Sexuality. He let something go with that book and his thoughts crystalised with it.’
The pigeon doesn’t seem especially interested in Foucault.
‘Of course, really, it goes all the way back to Plato. And Vedantic theology has similar echoes. Then again The Phaedo isn’t really any more grounded in popular culture than Foucault. If anything, Foucault has the upper hand. Not sure that’s a good thing, to be honest. There is something deeper and more real in Plato. He captures the poetry of reality.’
The pigeon isn’t interested in the poetry of reality either. Instead, it flutters from the ground onto the wooden fence, which demarcates my backyard from the neighbour’s.
I half expect a cat to leap up from behind the neighbour’s fence and savage the pigeon before my eyes. But that doesn’t happen.