Here is a small fact. You are going to die.
Reaction to the aforementioned fact. Does this worry you? I urge you, don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair.
Of course, an introduction. A beginning. Where are my manners? I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulders. I will carry you gently away.
These are the opening words to The Book Thief. I am going to die. The passage makes death seem almost kind; bearable – easy. Without pain. Death has been around a lot recently. The media have screamed suicide from their front pages; killing; personal tragedy. In Amsterdam, I am seeing headlines dimly, under the shadow of the holocaust. So many lives lost. Death comes to everyone, in the end.
I’m at a conference. Or I was. It’s over now. This one has been unlike the last. Rather than feeling energised by the talks, I feel exhausted by them. So much bullying. I’m worn through. Aside from the talks, I’ve been watching out for my former line manager; taken on the appearance of a rabbit in the headlights, not daring to breathe, whenever she approached me, weighing every word before it is uttered, waiting for her to take umbrage with me. She has not. Yet. Neither have issues surrounding our research paper been tackled. I am a coward.
And, as the talks mounted up, thoughts of death closed in. I can’t keep up. Colleagues, who are years behind me career-wise, now have good, permanent lectureships, before gaining their PhDs – my second fixed term contract will soon expire. I can’t run after them anymore . I can ask good questions about social exclusion, for sure – sustain discussions where symposia are falling apart; talk the talk. But I can’t walk it. There have been some talks that I could barely stand to hear; the echoes of my past too prominent. Why the hell am I bothering? And, if I can’t work, why am I living? I don’t want to live, if I can’t work. What’s the point? I’ve had enough. I don’t have to take anymore.
I’ve been desperately stuffing these thoughts down, telling myself not to be so self-pitying, to concentrate on what’s happening around me. These thoughts are frightening. But they are just thoughts: ride them out. These days, they come unbidden, more and more, whenever something upsets me.
Another difference. Where once, I would have leant on God, amidst the unfamiliar, my Bible lies unopened on my bedside table; my holding cross, untouched. I have found no time for Quiet; sent arrow prayers at most. Please God, help me think of something to say. Please God help me to be sociable.
But now the conference is over. And there are gentle walks and church visits planned for tomorrow. And, though I have had no time for Him, God has been there for me, through the prayers of others, and in the quiet help and patient listening of friends. I just need to keep on living, an hour at a time.