Oliver Sacks and She-Sheds

0109-AL-AW01.01I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. – Oliver Sacks



Oliver has his critics, among them the disability activists who suggested he creates ‘freak shows’ in order to make  money. He has many achievements, been creative, inventive and seems to have done it on his own terms, while being his own person and true to himself. At this end of his life let’s cut him some slack, listen to his words on dying and see how we feel about them.

I have reached a time in my life when my role models seem to be dying like flies. Those I have admired, learned from and looked up to, are disappearing fast, some of them being offered State Funerals and all the honours. Others go quietly into the night without much fanfare or fuss and with maximum dignity and live their dying much as they did their living. One aged politician, a staunch member of the Liberal Party, had proven such a warrior for the disenfranchised that my admiration for him grew from nothing. I had despised his actions way back when and in his last months he acted on his sense of ethics and morality and resigned from the Party he latterly criticised and despaired about. He was actively working to set up a new political Party. He didn’t live long enough to get it off the ground, but what an advocate for engagement, active involvement and the pursuit of goals he was!

My friends and old mates started dying decades ago, finding ways to exit which gave them comfort and hope, with new beliefs and practices. One dear friend die unexpectedly, but just as he would have wished – sitting on a rock watching a sunset. He may even have had my photo in his wallet. I never got to hear. Another friend I bumped into in the Supermarket the other day has weeks to live/love, maybe longer, but is more cheerful than I have ever seen her; laughing and joking about death and dying and creating wonder all around her for those who are not used to this approach to death and find it disconcerting. Personally I find it greatly liberating, dropping all the small talk about death, the pussy-footing around the facts, the strange language we use and the pretences.

Through life we can, if we choose, be the recipients of many pieces of advice on dying and death. We are told to forgive, to make the peace, to put our affairs in order and to live each day as if it is our last. Some are too terrified to let go, believe they are indispensable or believe that things will be better in the next life, that there will be a ‘next life’ and that our karma will find us. I still love the old joke about the announcement that  ‘my karma just ran over your dogma’. It never fails to make me smile as it seems to sum up the inevitability of dogma always being overtaken and flattened by events, ‘fate’ or the ‘future’. Or as a commenter put it on one of those ‘let’s make sense of it sites’  – “Real Life destroyed your preconceived notions about reality”

And if you’re thinking it’s time to delve into how you feel about life, death and dying or any other of those ponderables we discover in life, often in the wee small hours, here’s the perfect place to do it. Men have had their sheds for aeons and have always seen the necessity and sense of them. The house or home was once seen as the domain of women, the realm of ‘her indoors’, but as that concept has altered and the work of women extended outside the home into paid work we have seen more and more the necessity for a quiet female space to relax, regroup, chill or just have ‘a room of one’s own’. A place sacred to the feminine if you like, or a place where you can be yourself, arrange and decorate as you wish without compromise or negotiation. What a relief!  What a haven and a refuge!  Every woman today needs one to gather her thoughts, be a Queen, create, think, stare at the wall and be undisturbed for a time – a long a time as she can get away with for some!  I have been lucky enough to have several of these in my time – one a tiny attic room with a skylight view over London, one an actual shed but too dusty and another a 1950’s caravan with mirrored cocktail bar! The peace and quiet, the thinking time, the creative space was wonderful. I achieved a great deal in those spaces, although am lucky enough to be able to achieve the same things with just a designated table and chair arranged to my liking if I have to. However these beauties are delightful – do take a look. Tell us about your shed if you have one, we’d love to hear! ❤



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