To look life in the face
to know it for what it is, to love it for what it is...
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds1
I have a very special little Sparrow coming to stay with me at home next week, along with his (equally wonderful) siblings, for a ‘soft release’. A soft release is where an animal is gently introduced to the environment where it will eventually be properly released. Usually, Sparrows are released soon after they are seen consistently feeding themselves in the aviaries, but this particular Sparrow had displayed some neurological symptoms, so we’d kept a close eye on him. He’s doing well, though, and after a little adjustment to our garden should enjoy, along with his ‘crew’ (the collective noun for Sparrows) a happy, fully-wild life. There are strict rules in place around not naming wild animals at the rescue centre—he is called Norman.
David, my beloved, built an aviary for Norman & co. It’s beautiful. David is an exceptionally gifted therapist, and is also very good at building things. He is good with his hands. David’s nature is a complex and beguiling one; determined, artistic, sensitive, feral. He has an intelligence that seems to be inherent. He left school long before any child legally should and was working in a gas station at 11 years old and a factory at 15—and yet, when we watch University Challenge, he answers question after question correctly, like some kind of circus freak.
Upon leaving his hometown in an attempt to untangle himself from the clutches of crime, drugs and abuse which were rife there, he spent some months living on the streets in London, occasionally breaking into cars or vans to sleep. His story is his to tell, and he does so beautifully here but, in a nutshell, he was busking on Baker Street and was stopped by a besuited gentleman to discuss the piece of music he was playing. That man was the head of an International record label, and shortly after their meeting David was being flown to New York to begin a job at Elektra records.
A couple of decades later, in the office of a music management company in London, he & I met. He, the head of an independent record label and me, (fresh out of rehab and perpetually startled) a personal assistant to one of the managers. He was wearing the most beautiful suit I’d ever seen. It was midnight blue velvet with the subtlest of pinstripes. I hardly made eye contact with, or spoke to, anyone at the time—but I found myself telling him how beautiful I thought his suit was. He gave me the warmest smile I’d ever been gifted with and, without a word, opened up his jacket, revealing the psychedelic pink and purple paisley silk that it was lined with.
That was seventeen years ago. We became friends and, two years later, lovers; beloveds. We are not married, but we are each others. When I think of our first meeting now, I believe that the exchange was one of me recognising his beauty and being compelled to share what I saw, and he responding by trusting me enough to reveal some of the magic that lay within. We’ve been doing this with each other, in various ways, ever since.
There is a, what some would call ‘significant’, age gap between us. I am 37, he is 60. People are so very welcome to their opinions. We are sometimes on the receiving end of what we’ve come to call ‘the laser eye’; a phenomenon whereby strangers offer us piercing looks of disapproval after, we suspect, assuming that David left his poor wife and children (of which he has had neither) for me.
Outside of the laser eye, though, the age gap barely ever registered for me. It has, however, as David is moving into this particular phase of his life, started to. We have been discussing where in the world we should next call home—England is not for us—so we’re talking a lot about that wonderful, terrifying and amorphous thing: The Future. These discussions have seen David using phrases such as “this last stage of my life”. Phrases which inspire terror in me.
Ten years ago, David was hit by a car. He was an endurance cyclist, and was coming down a mountain in California when a car, on the wrong side of the road, hit him head on. He had a head injury, and his collarbone ‘shot-gunned’ into many, tiny, sharp pieces—severing multiple nerves. He has recovered, but bares the scars and repercussions in the form of vertigo, nerve pain and migraines. I would like for David to live to be 110, at least, but I understand why he feels that he might not.
And so, friends, it has occurred to me that I tell myself, that I tell you, that Death is something we can befriend, something we can enter into relationship with, that it is an essential, potentially beautiful part of life, something with whom I have cultivated a relationship of teacher and guide—and yet, when I think of Death daring to move anywhere near David, all I can think is “No. No. Not him. Anyone but him.” I want to throw myself between Death and David with my arms spread wide and my teeth bared. In this scenario, Death becomes unnatural, unreasonable, malevolent and cruel.
Over the years, as opposed to the classic hooded, skeletal, scythe bearing figure, I have come to picture Death as a woman—the kind that Rossetti or Botticelli would paint, all youth and simmering ecstasy. I sometimes think of her as the Fifth Season. And, on the day she comes for David, apparently she’ll have a cat fight on her hands.
So, it would seem that this weeks public autopsy has revealed a large, hypocritical mass inside of me; and I’m led to ponder, what to do? Should I remove myself from this forum, tail between legs, mumbling apologies for being ‘all talk’? The thought crossed my mind.
I have a wonderful therapist (maybe I even have two, but I’m not going to share that here, am I). I also have a wonderful best friend. So wonderful, in fact, that I’ll sometimes start crying when I think about how much I love her. These wonderful beings tell me that I must be especially kind to this terrified part of me, and that although nothing is written and David and I have no earthly clue which of us will die first, our age gap is a reality that we cannot ignore—like Death, it needs our gaze, our attention and at least some of our acceptance, so that it, too, does not become some gnarled and threatening thing. Some unnecessary enemy.
Deeply loving anyone, or anything, comes with such enormous risk. And yet, we do it. Across the globe, across millennia, we do it, over and over. It seems we cannot help ourselves. Thank God.
I’ll update you on Norman and the crew, soon. As always, thank you for taking the time.