"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier"
The opening line, of course, from "L'Etranger" by Albert Camus. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. Now that's indifference on an epic scale. Shocking, numbing indifference. How could anyone feel like that about something so earth-shattering? The death of your own mother, for goodness sake.
Those lines popped into my head this afternoon when I heard about the death of an old lady. Oh, not Thatcher.... there's more than enough being written about her already without me chipping in. No. I'm talking about a lady who lived just a little down the street from us. I barely knew her. She seemed a bit of a miserable old cow, to be honest. Badly dressed and with the most shocking dyed orange comb-over. In fact, in the ten years I've been living here, I don't believe we've ever so much as exchanged a single word. I used to say "hello" to her politely every time I saw her, but she never once replied or smiled or even acknowledged my existence, so a cheery hello soon became a smile, then a nod and eventually nothing at all. I just wrote her off as a sour old cow with a terrible hair-do whose face would probably crack if she ever smiled.
It turns out that she died. Some time ago. How do we know this? Certainly not because I missed her and cared enough to pop round to make sure she was okay.... but because apparently the cleaners came to her house today with their overalls and their masks to clean her up.
Yeah. That. I'm not sure shake'n'vac is quite going to cut it for a job like that.
I didn't know this woman at all, but I couldn't stop thinking about her this afternoon. How sad to die on your own and how sad that no one noticed. I'm not hypocritical enough to deny my own indifference here - I didn't know this woman in life and I won't miss her now she's dead - but surely you're not human if you don't feel a twinge of humanity at the thought of someone dying alone like that.
She won't care now, of course. She's dead and the dead don't care. It happens to all of us sooner or later, I'm told... whether you die unnoticed in your own house, in a hotel room at the Ritz or freezing cold on the street.
It's all the same. We all die. If we're really lucky, someone will care.
Here's Camus again:
"Je m'ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifférence du monde"
The gentle indifference of the world. Look around you: it's everywhere.