Now it seems to me we have no choice - we must write our farewell letters

After 11 September and now Madrid, there's every reason to suppose our number's up
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The Independent Online

Last week I wrote a letter to my partner, the person I love most in all the world, to be opened only on my death. My last emotional will and testament, as it were, saying all those things that people wished they'd said had accident not overtaken one or other of them. A statement of devotion and indebtedness, and of course grief, because I won't be there with her, not ever, not ever ever, when she reads it. She wrote the same to me. And there they now sit, our letters of goodbye, locked away in our drawers, not to be opened, we both hope, for another 100 years. But then again.

Last week I wrote a letter to my partner, the person I love most in all the world, to be opened only on my death. My last emotional will and testament, as it were, saying all those things that people wished they'd said had accident not overtaken one or other of them. A statement of devotion and indebtedness, and of course grief, because I won't be there with her, not ever, not ever ever, when she reads it. She wrote the same to me. And there they now sit, our letters of goodbye, locked away in our drawers, not to be opened, we both hope, for another 100 years. But then again.

So how come this compact of death? Is this some queer cultic morbidity that has overtaken us? Maybe it is, maybe it cannot be anything but morbid to make provision, other than of the material sort, for a future in which you yourself can have no part. You can't arrange for what anyone is going to feel, you cannot make it better (or worse), so the best course is probably to do nothing. Concentrate on life and take your chance with death. The only trouble with such insouciance being that chance is suddenly a lot less random than it once was. After 11 September, and now Madrid - and what I believe we will forever (if there is a forever) come to think of as a fatal capitulation to terrorism post-Madrid - there is every reason, beyond the usual ones, to suppose our number's up.

We will pop out one sunny Sunday afternoon, perchance, forget to tell the person to whom we are devoted how much we are devoted, and bang! That the person to whom we are devoted might not ever see a single hair of us again, because we have been blown apart and not a trace of us, not so much as a little pool of DNA, left anywhere in the physical universe, will make our forgetfulness the crueller. Better that they have something to burn or bury. Better that some palpable reminder of us remains. With illness, however terrible, there is time to make peace with the dying body, as there is time to speak your heart. But the new death that awaits us is a fearful obliteration - if they have their way, a making it as though we never were. A removing of us from the annals of life.

The Nazis intended to do that with the Jews. Gas and burn until all memory of Jewishness was wiped away. And now it's all our turns.

"What's the point of worrying," my father was always saying, "you could be knocked down by a bus tomorrow." And he was right. But at least with buses, you can watch your step. Though it is an unequal contest, you have some say in whether you'll get in a bus's way or not. Nevertheless, even in the days when there were only buses to worry about, I was the sort of man who preferred to bestow an extra kiss before he left the house, who was careful to slip in a valedictory smile, rich in memory of good times past, just in case. Now, it seems to me, we have no choice - we must write the farewell letter.

Can one enter too exquisitely into the parting of lovers? There is no one of my acquaintance who doesn't go at the knees when Cleopatra says her goodbyes to Antony - "The crown o' th' earth doth melt... Young boys and girls are level now with men... And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon" - but most of them draw the line at the Student Prince (Edmund Purdom singing with the voice of Mario Lanza) enfolding his Heidelberg Bierglasmadchen (Ann Blythe of the swollen and empurpled lip) for the final time. Duty, you see. The Student is the King of Karlsberg now and can no longer go where his heart once took him. I wept buckets over that, aged 12, perhaps knowing that one day I'd be King of Karlsberg myself, and would have to put the panting barmaids of my unshielded youth behind me.

Oedipal is it, forever imagining being parted from the woman you love? All to do with your mother who betrays you with your father and your younger brother? I'm not against that interpretation, provided one keeps one's mind open to the other possibility - more Plato than Freud - that we come into the world already heartbroken, already knowing that we are marked for romantic disappointment, that love is the sweetest, most elusive thing and that even if we find it we will not be able to take it with us at the other end, and then there's your bloody mother confirming it all before you've so much as learned to cry, "Don't leave me, Mama!" Oedipus not a complex, in that case, but a confirmation. So yes, okay, though I wouldn't dream of owning to it anywhere but on this page, yes, I have unresolved Oedipus Confirmation issues.

But what does saying that amount to, other than that there is a print of sadness on us, because we long to combine with another person, find our deepest fulfilment in it when we do, and cannot bear the inevitable and final separation? Which is all the more reason to hate those who would separate us too soon. Fine, understand them if you think it will help, but above all hate them. Give them no encouragement or succour, don't out of faint-heartedness palter or parley with them, stop at nothing to defeat them. And if that means a little or even a great curtailment of our civil liberties, some inconvenience to our foreign relations or our immigration laws, some diminishment in our idea of ourselves as high of mind and sweet of nature, so what? Are civil liberties to be compared with the freedom which romantic devotion to someone else confers?

The racket of them - murdering ideologues on one side, muttering civil rightists on the other! For God's sake, hold your tongues and let us love.

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