Sunday, 22 February 2015

Treasure

In childhood the first seeds of taste are planted, and it seemed to me as a boy that Treasure meant possessions, material wealth, mainly as a result of Treasure Island being read to me by my father. The idea of treasure being holdable in a buried chest found only with the right map stuck with me until my father died in July 1953 during the night of an unexpected fatal heart attack. Then I began to realise that TREASURE we value most is not a jewelled fate, but much more about the people we love. It was not until I went on in my late teens to study David Hume and other philosophers as part of my university undergraduate course that I found this realization described so well by David Hume facing the inevitability of death considered in similar circumstances. This week I discovered that Oliver Sachs (in his recent article for The New York Times) finds Hume equally helpful:

He writes about decisions he has made since a diagnosis of untreatable liver cancer - "I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favourite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ILL at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.” 'I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,' he wrote. 'I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.' "
I do not believe I have ever properly "got over" the shock of the death of my treasured father all those years ago, and I hope all of the "best bits" of him live on in me - our children are our major gift (or curse) to posterity, and bringing up our son (my stepson) is certainly what I count my own major achievement. I wish that our daughter, Rebecca, had lived more than her mere four years, as Rebecca was certainly our second treasure after Damian.
To complete my homily, real treasure in life I feel is NEVER to suffer "a moment's abatement of (one's) spirits", though the four or five years after Rebecca's death in 1985 were very hard to bear, and not everyone is fortunate to accept from childhood that life always appears too brief when we lose those we love.
My father rose to be a Warrant Officer First Class in the RAF of the 1930s and 1940s and I try to live by his motto - Onward and Upward. What I treasure most is the life that he and my mother gave me.
CJH February 2015
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