Sunday, March 01, 2015

The dying art of conversation The art of dying conversation

Reading the reaction of celebrated professor of neurology and author Oliver Sacks to being diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was struck by the remarkably equanimous if not genuinely sanguine way in which he's facing up to his fate. Yes, he acknowledges "I cannot pretend I am without fear", but he claims to feel "a sudden clear focus and perspective" and his overriding emotion isn't terror or self-pity but gratitude for the intellectually rewarding and emotionally rich life he's been fortunate to enjoy.

I'd like to think that, in the same circumstances, I might respond in the same way - but it's very unlikely. Perhaps it's a consequence of being a committed atheist who doesn't believe in any kind of afterlife, but contemplating my own mortality petrifies me to the extent that I try not to think about it as far as possible.

It was with interest, then, that I read about so-called "death cafes". The idea is simple: turn up for a coffee, maybe a slice of cake and a friendly and informal discussion about personal perspectives on death. Looking online, it seems several have taken place in the Oxford area in the last few months, including one at Barefoot Books in Summertown at the start of February. I'll be keeping an eye out for future events in the area - attending one might well help me to feel more comfortable with a subject from which modern life ensures we're so often distanced or insulated.

(Thanks to Jen for the Sacks link.)

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