My sister screamed through the phone that Dad was dead. I hung up and dropped it. I instantly learnt what shock is.
Earlier that day I'd come home from wherever I was and opened the front door. I lived with Mum and my two sisters. My baby sister lit up and ran at me, joyously yelling "Daddy!". She stopped halfway, disappointed to find it was just her big brother. He hadn't come to pick her up today, as he did every Friday, to take her out home for the weekend. Today he was unreachable.
The weekend prior, he gave me a lift to a party, we stopped at a bottle store so I could grab a 20 box of Double Browns. He was waiting in the car when an old friend walked by. I walked out to find them yarning. Usually I'd already met the people he seemed to know so well - I'd grown up around his mates, but I hadn't seen this guy before. They talked for quite a while, I was always struck by the Old Man's willingness to do so, where others might have looked for the first excuse to move on with their day.
I'd just been overseas for a holiday and this was the first I'd seen him since. While abroad I found myself in the room of a plush apartment containing everything one might need to make and record songs. I didn't get to tinker, but being in that room and realising that a studio can now fit in your bedroom really struck a nerve. So as we drove I told the Old Man about wanting to buy some gear. He offered to take me over to see his mate Richie, who owned the Music Machine. I was sure to be looked after if he took me in, people were very fond of Danny Badlands.
I didn't divulge many other details about the trip, it involved activities you don't yarn to your folks about and I'd always felt uneasy sharing too much with them. We'd been given a lot of freedom growing up and I'd pushed it. There's an understated guilt that comes with being naughty when you have relaxed parents. Plus I was too young to want the guidance, even though it always came wrapped in cool subtlety. I was an excited lad. Refreshed and fulfilled. The future was bright. He dropped me off. I had a wicked night.
The next morning he was there when I awoke at Mums. I felt rotten and didn't want to deal with anyone. I avoided getting up as long as I could, I had no desire to converse, but the need to piss set in and didn't relent. So I eventually arose, did what I needed to do and reluctantly made my way out to where Mum and Dad were lounging with coffee. It would've been rude to not say hello but I was far from good company.
The folks got on better when they didn't live together. Dad would visit often but he'd always take off back to our old family home - the house we grew up in, to the dog we grew up with. Just as he did that day, not long after I got out of bed in bad shape and poor form. It was probably that evening that he died.
Five days later, it's Friday, he hasn't shown up to get my baby sister and Mum starts trying to get hold of him. She made a few phone calls. None fruitful. As the mystery deepened, Mum and my sisters decide to drive out to his house. I had to work. A busy friday night. 30 people to oversee. I went to set up my shift but in no way could I focus. Panic was starting to set in. I phoned my grandad from the glass office overlooking the kitchen at work. He hadn't seen him, his mates hadn't seen him, no one had. He hadn't been to work all week. Hadn't been to band practice. When I ran out of calls to make I waved the boss to the office. I could barely mouth the words that something was wrong and that I had to leave. I got in my falcon and hurried towards the old family home. I pulled over to ring my sister on the way. They'd beaten me there and she was hysterical.
Life became very hard, very quickly. It was the middle of summer. Mum and my baby sister broke in to find his rotting blackened corpse, fallen backwards in it's chair, lying in a pool of dried blood. The hot air thick with flies and stench. She'd married that man in her teens. Her best friend for 20-something years and this is what had become of him.
My 3 year old sister would grow up without a dad and my teenaged sister would lose hers when she needed him most. She was 16 and not long after, also lost her boyfriend in a car crash. These were unhappy girls. Those were grim days. My brother lived in a different town and after he came to see off the Old Man, and help strip and renovate the family house, he had a life to go back to. The bubble of support that came together to mourn eventually shrunk and burst. Everyone else went back to normalcy. And rightly so. But normalcy wasn't so easy in such a wounded household.
My own grief was profound. It came in waves. A cycle of crushing, gut-wrenching sickness, followed by brittle calm and inevitably back again. It consumed all my thoughts. I was forced to confront the delicacy of life unlike I ever had before. It was terrifying. Death and dying began to beg my attention constantly. At such times you can't help but carry difficult and troubling feelings; frightening and disturbing and an unwelcome waste of time. If you let the wrong thoughts creep in, you become engulfed by dread.
Somewhere along the way it became clear that a peaceful mind is more valuable than anything. It struck me that nothing can be done to avoid one day facing such horrors again, but my own fault was in paying mind to those worries, thus prolonging their effect. The prospect of dying or losing someone at any moment saw to it that sitting idle in life was no longer an option. It forced me to reflect on the person my dad had been and to carefully consider the aspects of his character that'd be worth imitating and which ones were best counted as lessons. There's no way to walk away from that situation without a better sense of the man you want to be.
We're all inevitably ambushed by tragedies. They affect you deeply and alter the course of your life; but I think you can control the way in which these events shape you and it can be positive. The sting of loss and the fear of losing people and the fear of knowing that death is imminent certainly weigh on your nerves, but such thoughts can command a strong respect for life. One person's departure shouldn't ruin the precious moments of those that still have them. What else can you do but take whatever inspiration you can, make peace with the tragedy and get on with it all?
Third on the Match - Behind The Song
We dug rocks from the earth, extracted the minerals, reconfigured them into machines, sent them into the sky and now they do our bidding at the other side of the solar system. We sent them many millions of miles with physics and engineering, written in the the majestic tongue of mathematics; using the gravity of planets and the suns energy to fuel their journeys. They travel for years and we know exactly when and where they're going to land.
We can see what they're seeing. We know about the dirt they're sitting on and the air they operate in. We see images of the hills they traverse and the skies they're beneath. Someone sits on earth and feeds them instructions through invisible connections, they follow our orders and tell us what they find. We question them across incomprehensible distances. They answer.
Through our machines, we've extended the reach of our eyes and ears. Not only over greater physical distance but also over greater spectrums of energy. We can picture ultraviolet and infrared light and we can hear sounds that are naturally inaudible. We've extended the reach of our minds. We can place our thoughts into another persons head on the other side of earth, instantly. We can measure things that seem to not exist. We can move things without being there to touch them.
To do so, humans need to make incredible predictions; to know the behaviour of a great number of things and how they affect each other and then discover a way to master them. The progress we've made here is perhaps humanity's finest achievement - the ability to witness and build things for which our bodies alone aren't purposed, and to know things that are naturally beyond us.
There was a time when the only information people had came from the relatively humble senses of our bodies; the ones we evolved to help us feed, fight and fuck. As impressive as they are, they absorb only a small piece of the picture. What we see in the world around us, we had to try and explain given a very limited vantage point. Our view was restricted to our immediate surroundings and the spoken tales of other naïve people.
With the development of societies, people who would otherwise need to focus on surviving were freed to spend time studying. Knowledge of the natural world beckoned. Writing made it possible to send information down through the generations and a system was developed for meticulously testing ideas and tossing out the ones which don't stand up to scrutiny.
In doing so, our knowledge slowly accumulated and our tools refined. Our predictions became more accurate. Our vantage point grew and grows still. The shoulders on which we stand are getting further from the ground. Exponentially, our ability to sense the world around us and our ability to observe, record and understand it has expanded. Ideas can be built-upon and sieved for correctness. There is a lot we don't know, and a lot that we assume to be right that we're wrong about, but over time these inaccuracies become illuminated and bad ideas are more likely to be discarded.
The better we understand our environment the better we can survive in it. And to live longer and more comfortable lives it helps to know how to deal with things that can affect your ability to do so; such as weather, water, food, foes and illness. Knowing how the world works is crucial for our continuation. Being born and staying alive is pretty tough. We only know the fortunes of the bold ones who lucked in - we're their descendents. The rest? Oblivion. In the struggle, a few get by, like us, but many more don't. We are the product of the genes that have evaded extinction. Every one of our ancestors all successfully perpetuated. We truly are the elusive. There are species that are more numerously populated, but we have seen further and experienced more.
Our system for eliminating human bias and erroneous thinking, which has allowed us this greater insight, is relatively new. Without it, people did their best to explain the causes of these mysteries using what limited information was apparent in their immediate surroundings. The stories and explanations about the natural phenomena we witness are as varied as all the individuals to have lived on earth.
But now the information we have is better; closer to reality than we had previously. Constantly filtered, constantly being corrected and forever expanding. We now understand the weather and how it affect our crops. We know that germs exists and that they makes us ill. We know what sight and sound are. We know about the tides and seasons. Why the earth moves and the wind howls. We now comprehend the vastness of space our diminutive place in it.
We used to think we were the pinnacle. That it was all here to serve us. We didn't realise that we're just a speck on the canvas of history. We thought that we're somehow outside of and apart from nature and that the things we create are not 'natural'. We call them man-made, or synthetic. Missing the fact that the same physical laws and natural processes that cause a flower to bloom or a star to explode are also responsible for forming the brain which commands the hands to build the spade which digs the rocks that hold the silicon that insulates the microchip that processes the instructions for controlling the rocket that carries our humanity and lands it on a tiny piece of rock hurtling through space, further away from earth than any words could reliably convey. We're all a cog in the wheel of the universe and we're bound by it's mechanics. As much a part of it as anything else that exists.
It's instinctual to try and influence our surroundings, and when we knew less we'd try to persuade nature with sacrifice, to beg mercy of it with spells, potions, chants and dances; to create stories about things we didn't really understand. What else can you do in a deeply terrifying and seemingly indifferent world? But time has proven that the rituals don’t work and that whoever we plead our case to doesn't seem to be listening and that tradition is the worst reason for doing anything and nature is super enough without it's laws being suspended.
The more we refrain from creating stories to fill the gaps in our knowledge and instead be comfortable, but not complacent, about the things we don't yet understand, the more accurately we can know the real phenomena at work in our world. Our ignorance recedes and dangers can be sidestepped. We open up to things that inspire legitimate awe. When mysteries become understood they're always much more stunning than we could have imagined in our fiction and our lives are richer for it.