November 9, 2014
August 11, 2014
Pace Wilfred Owen, it’s not an outright lie – dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
Remembrance ceremonies, such as the ceremony taking place this morning at London’s Cenotaph, enact the ‘sweet and noble’. A ritual of dulce et decorum, but not necessarily hollow. The falsification comes in the change of tense – not ‘to die’, Horace’s old line would be straight and true if it read: ‘to have died’.
On Remembrance Sunday, in the primary composition of former combatants, thesecondary role accorded to politicians and other civic dignitaries, and, above all, in thetwo, silent minutes of concerted contemplation, decorum is restored to all those who have died in bloody chaos.
In the moment, bodies broken open (more ghastly than grave robbing), bereft of sense and sensibility (only sensation, agonising sensation). But now they are people again, re-assembled in orderly progression.
The solemn procession, at its head our idea of the dead.
Take this, we say, for we do it remembrance of you. Which may be only partly true, but what else….?
Whichever side. Besides the Cause. There is nobility in having died, now it has been entered post festum.
Forget Jesus – the Resurrection goes by the name of Saa Sabas.
Sabas is a 41-year-old West African pharmacist who contracted what turned out to bethe Ebola virus while nursing his father, who may have been a former nurse in theFrench colonial army.
Unlike Sabas Snr, the son survived. Now nicknamed ‘Anti-Ebola’ and ‘the Revenant’ (who comes again), he volunteers to tell the tale to superstitious villagers as scared oftreatment centres as they are of the disease itself.
And why not? Although at 60 per cent the death rate of the current outbreak is lower than earlier episodes which topped 90 per cent, most incomers into Ebola isolation hospitals still go out through the morgue.
In this context, superstition need not be ‘ancient’; all it takes is a dodgy connection – entirely spurious but almost logical – between the likely demise of the hospitalised andthe medical procedures designed to improve their chances.
For example, nurses and doctors, during the one hour at a time in which they are allowed to work directly with Ebola patients, are swathed head-to-toe in prophylactic plastic – a straightforward measure to stop transmission of bodily fluid and so preventthe virus from spreading. But this might not be the only way it is seen by those on thereceiving end.
Yikes!, cried the emaciated man (10 kilos lost to high fever and dysentery), in between violent hiccups characteristic of the disease, either I strayed into a vintage episode ofDr Who or death is already occurring and I have climbed onto the set of my own autopsy. Dash it all but I should never have come to this terrible place!
(Of course, it is the hiccups – gulp! – which are making him talk like Billy Bunter.)
Thankfully, Saa Sabas was granted immunity from any such syllogism. Having worked at the pharmacy in Gueckedu hospital, medical procedure was in his blood as much asthe Ebola virus. When he fell ill only a few days after his father died, he immediately presented himself for diagnosis and treatment.