“Just popped by my friends record store in Soho, but he’s not there. I’m walking through Chinatown now. There are five Chinatowns in the UK and twelve major Chinatowns in Europe. There’ve been a great many surveys done on how many languages are spoken in this city, some estimate around a hundred, other say there are closer to three hundred. To my ear they’re all musical incantations, notes rather than words.
My personal history with this city will span forty years, next year. This includes a period of homelessness and of petty villainy, and performing as a street musician which then led to being ‘discovered’ - which in turn led to a career in music and an astonishing amount of world travel.
Needless to say I have a fondness for this place. There was a sense of wonder threading through each of those years, even the most difficult ones. I’ll talk more about that in later episodes. I’ve been thinking about how, as a little kid, I learned to not only bury my joy but also my fear, hiding most of my inner world from the outer world, mastering the art of how to mask. This, for want of having somewhere to turn, someone to turn to. I did have an emerging sense of something other, a sense of something spiritual, but it wasn’t yet enough to contain the turbulence that I was experiencing.
Difficulty becomes magnified when we isolate, and from that isolation we tend to get pretty creative— ‘Everyone else on this bus is ok except for me!’, which then very quickly becomes ‘There’s something wrong with me’.
One of the more destabilising periods of my life arose when I was first struck by the truth of my own mortality, which was very different from the first time I understood that things die. The fear I felt was profound, and the effort that I had to put into hiding it was colossal…”
On the eve of my ninth birthday, a deep and debilitating death phobia popped by for a visit, brought on by a line that caught my ear from a bizarre episode of the television show The Saint. In it, an old soldier was sitting in a chair in a convalescent home, lamenting and mourning his fallen comrades.
I wasn’t even watching the show, his voice floated into my tiny ear as I was passing through the room, then put a cold hand around my heart and held on for months.
I went to bed that night shaking, mouth dry, lying awake for hours in a state of high alert. Urgently, I began to recite all the words I could remember, wondering which of them would be the last I would ever speak. They’d whizz by in a procession: robot, willow, rocket, bat, bike, Apollo—these amongst many hundreds of participants in my parade.
The fear gripped a little tighter on weekends. I couldn’t understand why everyone was going about their daily lives as normal, why there wasn’t widespread panic, why everyone wasn’t working collectively to find a cure for death. The only answer I could come up with was that I was the only person alive that was afraid of dying.
Some months later, trespassing across a local factory football pitch with a school friend, thin from anxiety-induced fasting, I tried to broach the fearful subject — beginning as far from the central theme as possible so as not to reveal my worried hand. Before I’d got more than three sentences out, my friend turned to me and said, “David, everyone is afraid of dying”.
Good grief! The relief of it!
The previous months of tension had twisted my posture, and in that moment the torsion ended. I opened up again, it felt like I was absorbing the world and everyone in it through my eyes and skin. Everything became precious, sparking an intense appreciation for the fragile and the finite. Even now, saying goodbye in the course of everyday interactions feels loaded.
If we can let go of the fear of our own disappearance, what appears in the space that was once occupied by that fear?
To the Earth, we are ephemera. Can we love it for supporting our brevity, and forgive it for not mourning our loss? It does, after all, welcome us back with open arms.
So loved that ending! A mentor, dear friend and wonderful human named Pete Sutherland died this week up in Vermont. After spending a precious two hours with him earlier this month, a visit we both knew would be our last, we had to say goodbye. I hugged him, told him he would stay with me and headed for the door, not wanting to become too emotional... As I left I called back, "see you down the road, Pete". As if whispering into my ear, he replied from across the room in a clear strong voice. " Yes, See you down the road". I loved this ending too. Brave, grateful for what is and looking forward to the coming adventure with open arms.
Hi David, beautiful piece again today thank you for sharing it. If we let go of the fear of our disappearance… I assume we would feel extremely light and our days would be filled with appreciation and, with all our senses, we would feast on all the beauty around us.. and there would be an elimination of melodrama. I would love to find out.