I saw something last week and it has stayed with me.
The image was that of a dead rat, laid out near the Grand Union canal, limbs spread, claws raised and torso twisted…the moment of death had been perfectly captured and temporarily preserved.
Its body was ravaged but its eyes were wide open and bulging, jaw clenched, with its head turning to its right, bearing its teeth in a last-gasp attempt at self-defence.
The rat was surely never more alive than in its last moments. Death and life were equally there, with the exact crossover point on display. This was a warrior posture, pure yoga-unity.
I presumed it was the prey of the urban fox that has been sniffing around the canal side, ripping apart black bags and other foxy things. I’d seen a big rat scuttling by the kerbside a few days prior, the fox sniffing the same path shortly after.
Death comes to all creatures, but the rat’s fighting spirit was striking. I stopped and admired it. I have seen death come to people’s spirits long before their physical demise. The dead eyes of the addict in Ladbrokes, not so different to the eyes of the politician at the press conference justifying dropping white phosphorous on children.
But the natural death of the rat is not mirrored in our unnatural environment. Our number one predator is not a stronger creature, but the very economic system we live in. Stripping lives of their meaning, atomising people, herded with officespeak, corporate mediaspeak, propaganda, consumerism, the housing crisis and more. Lives are directed to acts of malice, avarice and injustice.
We all know people born in the wrong place at the wrong time, ill equipped for the assault that can come; not given time, let alone guidance. Then blamed as they suffer. From individual despair and loneliness to North Kensington suffering the slow puncture of jadedness. It’s not the chem trails, it’s the system that deadens the soul.
Seeing the deceased rat, I took out my phone to take a photo, already knowing I would write about the morbid scene. But the grisly sight would not have portrayed the inner disturbance. My eyes took in the image, my mind furnished it with the nightmarish detail. An inverse of Proust’s madeleine, the dead rat took me into the future, right to my very end…
The one inevitability for all of us, but how will I go out? Quietly content with how I lived? Happy with what I did? Did I challenge injustice? Did I look after my offspring with benevolence and wisdom?
How will I live? In fear – clinging on to a wage and a hope for a better future? At what point will I fight? And when will I let go and accept?
What was truly alive was the rodent’s spirit; its desire to stay alive was the equivalent of the human whose eyes flicker with love and openheartedness, who can’t be beaten down by the trials and hardships they face.
Horror and death captured perfectly until an environmental health employee shovelled it up. We all face that fate, however we dress it up. How will I live? Playing the game to get b(u)y? Or honouring my aliveness and humanity? If those are the alternatives, I choose the rodent spirit.
Tom Charles @tomhcharles