Oh wow did it start well! The evening of Tuesday 2nd October, I attended the first event of the month with some friends. Laura D and I arrived at Highgate cemetery at just after dusk, having taken a bus up (most) of the big hill, and then wandered back down Swain’s Lane towards the chapel with achey calf muscles. Highgate chapel has a definite atmosphere which you want to attend at night, a welcoming glow in the dark and a drifting aroma of citrus from the warm gin cocktails supplied (true to the original Victorian recipe we were told!) cannot be anything but completely delightful.
Couldn’t tire of staring at that ceiling if I tried!
Dr. John Troyer began his presentation once the room was settled and suitably plied with warm gin. John is a lecturer at Bath university and the Director of the Centre for Death and Society. His talk was on the principle that humans have tried to extend their life spans, the reasons why, the consequences of these attempts and the results as they stand now. I won’t go into great detail about the event’s contents as such, mainly because I don’t want to ruin any future talks he may give on this topic if you are lucky enough to attend. I do, however what to discuss the thoughts I came away with. Largely, I was fascinated by his declaration that there is no ‘taboo’ around death existing today as so many (including myself) claim. I was also interested by the fact that at the start and also once presented with all of the information regarding that we could feasibly have our lifespans extended beyond what we consider normal today, when the room was asked if we would want to be immortal there was very few people who actually put their hands up. Mine did not go up at either the start or the end.
Firstly let’s look at the taboo, or the lack thereof. John insisted that the taboo was not there because people are actually starting to talk about death. That the fascination and opposite reaction of avoidance of death comes and goes like fashion almost, so the current death positive movement was nothing new nor was it a revolutionary concept. I guess that having never thought of it on this larger scale, I never really considered that it could be part of a much wider change in viewpoint rather than a new concept as such. However, I’m not convinced this reduces the necessity to highlight death as a taboo in current society. Too many people I encounter refuse to think about death, they refuse to talk about it and they are in complete denial that it is something that should be discussed at some point before it is absolutely urgent. To me that is a taboo, because society has, for a long time, made them feel that talking about death is unacceptable. Maybe you could term it in a different way. Maybe this is dependant on location, on social class, on background and on family experiences or connections. Accepting that, I still see that there is an overriding distaste in society to my career and my interests above those who are intrigued or open to the topic. I think I will still continue to describe this as a taboo, but maybe broaden my reasoning behind that term until I see a greater shift in how people think around me.
Would you choose to be immortal, given the caveat that you could still choose to also end your life at any point? Would you have considered in your choice the concept that the ageing process would also need to be halted somehow at a point where life was feasible? It’s all very thought provoking, however personally very little, if anything, could persuade me that immortality was a good thing. Not because I am religious, I am staunchly an atheist, but because I currently do not see a need for me to be around for an extended period above my allotted time however long that may be. I’m acutely aware that my mindset on this could and probably would change if I was faced with knowing when I would die or if it was soon. I’m not certain if working with death has made me very accepting that it will happen. I think it has certainly helped with my anxiety round the fact I don’t know when but I can’t do anything about it. Although, I am certain that this wouldn’t be the same reason for the majority of people in that room not raising their hand in response and it would be interesting to know their thoughts. It’s an odd thing I would like to explore further, but I do know that I really do feel more comfortable knowing that I will die one day rather than knowing that I would never die.
It was a fantastic way to kick start the London Month of the Dead and I cannot wait for the further events I am attending. Financial and time constraints meant I could only attend a handful but I will update you as I go along. Other than this I have a few other events and trips booked for the coming winter months which I am very excited about so keep a look out for those! If you have anything to say on the points raised above please comment or email me too.