In London today, my son and I wandered around and ended up at St Martin in the Fields Church. (Yes, yes, I have let strangers know I am on holiday and now my home will be burgled. Enjoy my rhinestones.)
St Martins is outrageously beautiful and it does indeed serve lovely gourmet food in the crypt. We walked around down there for a few minutes, looking at the flat gravestones that make up much of the floor.
The fact that it’s not depressing or weird to each lunch there proved one thing — long-ago deaths seem kind of cool, not sad. But looking at the dates inscribed on those stones proved something else. “Wow, ” said my son, 18, pointing. “This one died at 20.”
I peered closer. “No — that one died at 2.”
His eyes widened. Next to this was a mom who died and was buried with two of her children “who died in infancy.” Then a 12-year-old. And someone in his 20s and a woman in her 30s, and one woman who lived till 100! And a young man of 19, who was born in Africa and joined at age 12 the family that loved and buried him. I wonder what that story was.
But the bigger story was short and simple: It was, until very recently, normal for kids to die at 2, at 12, at 19 and in infancy. People in any era before ours would have given anything to live in a time when ordinary citizens could enjoy clean running water, antibiotics, and abundant, affordable, delicious food (even served in a crypt!).
So sometimes it feels as if we are living in a parable: The gods promise the people Utopia — health and wealth and almost perfect safety…with one caveat.
Which is? “You will never FEEL safe! Mwa ha ha ha ha!”
That seems to be a bargain we have made. And it seems that the point of the parable would be that we are fools to drum up new fears and fret about 1-in-a-million dangers (“You left your child in the car while you picked up the pizza???”) when we are so extremely lucky.
So very much luckier than the folks underfoot at lunch. – L.