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This being human

Newsletter: April 2017

Dear Web friend

Greetings again and if I write this month about the death of a friend, it is not to depress but to inspire.

And you might need inspiring, if you’re a UK reader, as election fever reduces everything to black and white and sound bites and poll forecasts parade themselves in all their hollow and fleeting majesty.

I first met Paul Carter when I wrote a weekly column in the Daily Mail called ‘Shelf Life’. Yes, Paul was a leading figure at the paper, but please rein in your assumptions… he was as kind and insightful a man as you could meet.

He taught me a great deal about writing, and even more about life, which he stared at with rare and unflinching honesty, with a penetrating eye for hokum.

My Mail column stopped (mourned only by my bank account) but our friendship grew until ten months ago, the cancer he’d known in his twenties returned in his early fifties, destroying his body with an energy which only occasionally took rest.

His death was still a shock, though.

He’d emailed me on the Monday. It was a letter of lovely insight about the world and myself. He was commenting kindly on a blog I’d recently written, introducing me to a Philip Larkin poem (he was always introducing me to new poems) and generally, helping me to understand myself better, a rare gift. That was Monday evening… by Wednesday, he was dead, he had left this place, his body too eaten to live.

I never imagined it would be his last communication, it hummed with so much life and love. His body so dead… his mind and heart so alive.

This being human, what a confusing mystery it is.

And here’s the thing. The shocking headline Paul would wish for, is this: his last ten months, when his body was being grotesquely consumed, were undoubtedly the best ten months of his life… and those are not my reflections but his.

I’ll shortly be taking his funeral. He asked me a couple of months ago with the severe writing on the wall. But here are his instructions to me, written from his death bed, as I approach the event:

‘Above all, Simon, I want you to emphasise the amazing sense of peace that’s unexpectedly descended on me in these last months and the way all my discontents with life, all the feelings of meaninglessness and inadequacy, have magically slipped away.

Approaching death really has been a journey into light and love. I’ve been overwhelmed by an extraordinary sense of connectedness to beauty – in poetry, music, art and landscape, but most of all in the love of my amazing friends and those dearest to me.

After a lifetime of struggle, I’ve finally surrendered to love, almost without noticing, and it’s beyond wonderful. Nothing that happens in my final days can destroy this.’

I have nothing to add to this mystery… apart from my profound belief in yours, in its faltering yet beautiful unfolding.

Until death us do part,

With very best wishes,


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