Tuesday, January 8, 2013

dying to live

There was something warming in a documentary about England's Queen Elizabeth II and her accession to the throne in 1953. I watched it for reasons that mostly escaped me last night. It was as warming as it was revolting ... and perhaps that mishmash of reactions kept me tuned in to what was a puff piece at best.

Eight years after the end of World War II, England was still reeling from its effects. Cheese rations were cut again. Building or rebuilding materials were hard to come by. And it was just in time for the coronation that sugar was deregulated and candy was freely available. Previous colonies like India had assumed independence and thus bitten a hole in the "rule Britannia" certainties. It was, as one woman put it, a "grey" time. Who was England and what new role would it play on the world stage?

The crowds cheered for the new young queen. Shops were filled with memorabilia. There was hope to be found in the queen's ascendancy, the grandeur, the presence of a long history of monarchy and ritual. Hope and belief and something to cheer for: Like candy, who would be so churlish as to withhold a much-desired sweet?

The riches on display were obscene -- gowns and tiaras and ermine and a certain arrogance of those so magnificently dressed and so self-assuredly self-assured. Others might be deprived of cheese and yet their deprivation was set aside as an outsized wealth went on display. It was as if those in need were willing to cheer for that which was partially responsible for their need. Was it ever different? Probably not. It might be galling and yet perhaps being galled is the price of a smile or a bit of cheese or a candy.

Cheering for death.

Dying for life.

I wonder how many people have died in the history-long quest for the fountain of youth -- for something that would assure an endless life? Like Ponce de Leon's, the quest is a testament to the ironies of belief and hope ... the careful building of story upon story until at last they burst into action ... and people die as a result. Dying to live forever is a churlish man's sport and yet a sport, like a magnificent coronation, that cannot be denied. Its tsunami-force impact is ... well, perhaps it is what it is and everyone insists on smiling about something.

On the small Greek island of Ikaria, people display a longevity that researchers are dying to pin down. Is it the water, the diet, the rocks or just the easy-going lifestyle that includes friendship and wine? Visitors seek the secrets but to those who live on Ikaria, there seems to be an indifference to the Ponce-de-Leon mentality.

No one can live longer than they live so why worry about living longer?

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