The following is an extract from Kenneth Roy’s final book, In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying (ICS Books). To buy a copy Click here. To purchase a copy from outside the UK, please email firstname.lastname@example.org (postages vary).
Now, a word about that chancer Seneca. Regret recommending him for my literary bucket list. Like a good Stoic, he embraces the imminence of death. Every time he sneezes he is begging for it: come, bring it on, see if he cares. Why fear death, he asks, when we have been dead before? We were dead before we were born. We shall be dead again, a second and final time. This is known as Seneca’s two deaths theory. It has survived as a respectable idea for more than 2,000 years. I wonder why.
Consider the logic in my own case. Yes, it is true that I was non-existent before 1944, when I was conceived. I remember nothing before then. I was, if I care to accept Seneca’s way of looking at things, dead. I had been dead for millions of years – forgive me, I’m poor on the precise maths – until Richard and Esther, of Bonnybridge, Scotland, decided they wanted a child. I was thus raised from the dead without anyone asking my permission, brought forth out of the womb into a state of being called alive; or, anyway, of no longer being dead. I shall soon be restored to my former state, dead once more. End of story. What more of human existence need be said when Seneca said it all 2,000 years ago?
Except this. I believe it may have occurred to you already, even if it appears not to have occurred to Seneca. The first death fails to qualify, misses the cut by miles, because it is unassociated with sensation of any kind. For the millions of years we were dead, we had felt no pain, no love, no anger, no ambition, no altruism, no selfishness, no grief, no anything. There followed the brief interval of life – usual over-priced plonk in the crush bar, best order before the show starts – in which we did feel pain, love, anger, ambition, altruism, selfishness and grief, and no doubt all sorts of other stuff that escapes me at the moment because I’m distracted by the bleeping of a help button up the corridor.
It’s finally stopped.
The late Kenneth Roy, editor of the Scottish Review
I’ve looked back over that last paragraph, but have decided that I don’t want to add to the terrible weight of pain, love, anger, ambition, altruism, selfishness and grief, which are surely enough to be going on with. And so – I proceed to state the obvious, as we journalists do – our second death is quite different in quality because we must face it with a freight load of experience – that of the awareness of having lived.
Seneca was just playing with us and with words. I shall tell him so in due course, if I get half a chance.
I forgot to say, strange omission considering it was the main event of the day: I had another endoscopy at lunchtime. Two extremely jolly, talky nurses wheeled me down to the unit, in and out of lifts, along endless corridors, me in my pyjamas, a ludicrous spectacle, quite pitiable in its way, myself indifferent to the effect having quickly shed any residual inhibitions. The usual paperwork on arrival – my file is already competing with War and Peace – and the usual question about whether any member of my family has ever been considered at risk of catching mad cow disease.
Doc X is waiting for me. A man of few words, most of them scary. Unsmilingly announces that I will be given a stronger local anaesthetic and stronger painkillers than last time. Ominous, but feel nothing thanks to Dr X’s precision and skill. Afterwards, am returned to the patient area of the unit and told to lie flat and relax, which I drowsily do, before being conveyed back to the solitary bliss of my room at the far end of Station 9.
I’d been fasting in prep for that scope. Around 5 o’clock, Steven brings me macaroni, which I relish without ill-effect.
Saving copy at the end of each night in case I’m dead by the morning. In this line of work, you can’t be too careful.
To buy a copy of In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying, Kenneth Roy’s final book, Click here