In this first of a series of cheery, lighthearted blog posts, I’m going to talk about something that has been on my mind recently.
I’ve been thinking about death.
This particular spate of musing was triggered by Torchwood, not for the first time. You see, halfway through series two of Torchwood, Owen dies. Except not quite. This being Torchwood and thus part of the Whoniverse, he doesn’t stop walking around. Unsurprisingly, he has an identity crisis – wouldn’t you? – and then there is one of the most inspiring, heartbreaking and thought-provoking episodes of Torchwood ever, at least in my opinion.
It’s called ‘A Day In The Death’. There’s the main story of Owen’s death and continued struggle with existence – I’m broken, Tosh! – which never fails to reduce me to an emotional wreck. But there’s also a frame story that shows Owen on a roof with a woman who wants to jump. Why? Because her husband died less than an hour after they were married; today should have been their anniversary. Why wait so long? Because she “believed people when they said it would get better.”
As viewers, we think that Owen went there to jump. As he tells her his story, the camera cutting back to the two of them throughout the episode, this seems to be confirmed. He wants it all to end. After all, he’s already dead. Injuries don’t heal, so throwing himself off a roof seems a fairly good way to destroy himself.
Owen didn’t go there to jump.
He went there to help.
See, as Owen’s story unfolds, we see its conclusion – hope, in the form of an alien artefact, a reply to messages sent by NASA into space, which gives out a ‘light in the darkness’. Owen says that it sang to him. He shows the woman – Maggie – the light and says to her that if the darkness is still overwhelming, then she should jump, but he reminds her of the little things. Cigarettes. The first sip of tea on a cold morning. Her friends.
He holds the alien light in one hand and holds her hand with the other, and he asks her if she still wants to jump.
We don’t know what decision she made but given her earlier hesitation on grounds of fear, the implication is that she didn’t. This was poignant to me because yesterday, a couple of hours before rewatching this episode, I witnessed a Tumblr conversation between Pheris and an anonymous user who was feeling suicidal. Contributing as best I could in replies, I urged the anon to live ‘for the cookies’ – for the good things among the bad.
If that anon had come to me today, and I were having that conversation with them, I would have told them to watch that episode of Torchwood all the way through and then tell me if they would still jump.
Because Owen went up there to help … even though he had just failed to save a man’s life. Perhaps because he failed. Even after he had asked that old, old man whether his life, plugged into life support and fed through a tube, was any better than death.
You have to consider Owen’s unique position here. He’s dead. He knows what happens (in his own universe at least). And yet he went out of his way to convince a woman to live. Why?
Because life, even though dark, still has pinpricks of light … and death doesn’t. Not for him. It’s just darkness, and he is scared. He is terrified that he will be consumed by it if he closes his eyes. Even a life full of pain (something Owen can no longer feel) is better than that.
I’ve been brought up believing in heaven and hell and most of the time, I still do. Up to a point. (I have issues with hell.) I never used to be scared of death, because it was ‘well, either I’ll hopefully go to heaven or there’ll be nothing so it won’t matter’. The idea of nothing terrifies me. Seriously. It scares the sh*t out of me, if you’ll pardon my language.
The idea of my thoughts, of my very being, just vanishing when I die, and everything being darkness? That’s the most terrifying idea in the world.
So if your life was dark, but you knew that death was pitch black and could only hope to be an end, not a better existence … if you were standing on that roof top, and someone urged you to think about the little specks of light that still existed … what would come to mind?
Would it be friends? Or something you loved doing? Or one particular person?
Would you still jump?