Thursday 27 October 2016

Wogan gives a lesson in pointlessness

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

What's it all for?: Broadcaster Terry Wogan's passing has led me to ask a question: What is the point of it all when you know, ultimately, the grave awaits?
What's it all for?: Broadcaster Terry Wogan's passing has led me to ask a question: What is the point of it all when you know, ultimately, the grave awaits?

A lot of people mentioned the death of Terry Wogan to me in a sympathetic way. They said things like, "You must have been very sad to hear about poor Terry Wogan", as if I in particular was affected by poor old Terry's death, as if we were family, related through the national and international fraternity of chat.

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In reality, the main thought I had about the death of Terry Wogan was the same thought I have when a lot of people like him die, people whose lives I am aware of from afar, people who achieved a lot in their lives. That thought is: "So what was the point of all that then?" There's Terry dead, and you kind of wonder what was the point of everything he did, everything he achieved, his career, his journey. What was the point of it all? Why bother? He's gone.

You can argue, of course, that Wogan brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and that he did a lot of good, through things like Children in Need, and I get all that. But then he died and while people will remember him fondly and he will become a part of TV history, what was it all about really? I'm not saying this is a correct thought. And it probably says more about me than it does about Wogan or life in general. But what's the point?

I am still haunted by that last interview Nuala O Faolain gave Marian Finucane. And she said that once she discovered she was dying it took the good out of everything. And I am conscious that Nuala did have some kind of a final journey where she spent precious time with friends and travelled a bit and made her peace with things to some extent. But I worry that I am one of the Nualas of this world. Once I realise I am dying, it will take the good out of everything. It will all seem pointless. And I get a small foretaste of that every time I have to think about someone else's death. The pointlessness of it all.

The worrying part of it is that of course I am dying. Not in the short-term, hopefully, but ultimately. So how to react to the pointlessness of it all? How not to let the inescapable fact of death take the good out of everything? I suppose when we were younger we sought escapism and oblivion and hedonism. But ultimately, as you go on, that is not a viable model, especially as every one day of hedonism leaves you with three days of misery. So what's next? Do we just try to distract ourselves, as Woody Allen does? Is that all we are all doing? Distracting ourselves from the unsatisfactory end by creating whole worlds and civilisations and cultures? And is it all pointless too?

I think, actually, the answer lies in Wogan. You see, the impression you get about Wogan is that for him, it wasn't all about advancement, and achievement, and accumulating wealth, and building monuments to himself. I'm sure he wasn't lacking in the ego department, but fundamentally it sounds as if Wogan was generally just enjoying himself. So that was the point. The big sweep of life and career may be pointless, but it's not about the big sweep; It's just about each day, each moment, and the only answer then is to try to enjoy each moment, each day.

People say of Wogan that he was blessed with a naturally sunny sensibility. He seemed to move through life and work with a light, deft, slightly sardonic touch. We are not all as lucky as Wogan. We are not all blessed with a naturally sunny sensibility. We do not all see the humour in everything. Some of us have to manage our energy levels, through caffeine and alcohol management, sleep, exercise and even light regimes, and making sure we get enough downtime. And those are just the basics to try to keep your head above water.

And then, once that is all in place, I guess the trick is to remember every day that we will die and that it's all pointless. And maybe that makes us free then, free to enjoy every day, every moment, free to feel grateful that we're not dead yet, that we got this brief window of time between long stretches of oblivion to be in this world. I know it's really simplistic and basic. But sometimes we forget these things.

So let us try to remember the brevity and pointlessness of our time on earth every day, and let us just try to enjoy it, without getting hung up on where it's all going. It's what my dear friend Terry would have wanted.

Sunday Independent

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