Death and equality


hat do Game of Thrones, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and lambing have in common?

Lambing this year was much harder than last year. Of the eight lambs that were born, six now survive two weeks later. Death has been present throughout this period, in varying forms, and it has made me aware that death is never far. On waking on a Wednesday morning, we walked down the field in the fog to see a new black lamb walking about, but our joy quickly dissipated as we realised that one lamb of twins was nowhere to be seen. We quickly realised that he (Stone) had been taken by a fox in the night. His mum (Mabel) had a newly developed limp and another ewe with twins had blood on her head. There had obviously been a fight.

This same day, our last two ewes lambed in the afternoon. Lois had twins, but only tended to the larger and first born lamb. The younger twin (Hope) had been partially cleaned by mum, but lay still and unmoving while Lois tended to her other lamb. After a couple of hours, we brought her in, warmed her up and tube fed her through the night. By morning she was bright, alert and walking. When we put her back with her mum, Lois actively pushed her younger lamb away (probably due to her smelling of us now). We took her inside again, and she deteriorated throughout the afternoon. By 11:20pm she had succumbed to E. coli bacteria with a temperature of 106 degrees F, and died. As the vet put it, her first meal was E. coli rather than milk, and so she was doomed from the start.

Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse-Five, about the firebombing of Dresden in the Second World War, is filled with the theme of death, and with each mention of death he finishes with the refrain “So it goes”. According to Wikipedia, he use this refrain 106 times: a lot of death for a small book. His style of prose affects a powerless or laissez-faire attitude. He seems to say: 'This is death, and it is all around me, and there is nothing I can do but accept it”.

Having just finished the fifth series of the Game of Thrones TV series, death abounds. The programme is well known for killing off any character, no matter their apparent centrality to the plot. Death seems to have no regard for whether the dying person is worthy of death or not: kind, brave, evil, murderous. All are equal in the eyes of death it seems. I am left feeling attached to a character, only for them to be killed in the next episode.

To answer the starting question then, I have come to see that there is no 'fairness' in death. All are equal in the eyes of death. We are not kept alive on this earth due to the good or bad deeds which we do. As with our two lambs, only living for about twenty-eight hours each, to me their deaths felt unfair, but they still died. So with the deaths Vonnegut writes about, and the deaths in Game of Thrones: things die, and it is part of life. Or put another way, death is siply neutral, it is we humans who impose good or bad, right or wrong on death. So it goes.