The terror first kicked in sometime in my teens. I remember being in my room listening to The Doors so you could say it was my own fault but suddenly it hit me.
I was going to die.
Like all good monsters the fear surprises me at the most unexpected of times, often at about 3.30 in the morning. And like all good monsters it has you hiding under the duvet, holding your breath in the hope that it will go away. And like all good monsters it makes you think that it has.
While at University my friend Andy told me about a story so old that it predated the book of Genesis; the tale of a King who had to face up to man’s oldest fear. Years later I saw the arch-druid of storytelling, Ben Haggerty, bring the three-thousand year-old words of Sin-leqi-unninni vividly to life. Much later the tag-team of Tim Ralphs & Simon Heywood brought the relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu into sharper focus for me. A friend bought me the Stephen Mitchell translation as a fortieth birthday present and I was transported to a city whose walls gleamed like copper in the sunlight.
Over the years I have spoken to friends, therapists and ministers about my fear of death and some of what they’ve said has been helpful. I have been to some good funerals and many bad ones and, on occasion, been a pallbearer or even stood before the casket as a minister. I have sat at the bed-sides of friends & family and held their hands and wondered if they can hear my tears or my prayers.
A few years after turning forty I became a father. One morning I awoke while my son slept with five words in my head: “It’s time to tell Gilgamesh.” The rest is history, you might say. I won’t lie to you and say performing this tale has finally dispelled my fear of death but I will say this: it has made me a hell of a lot less afraid to live.
The darkness is coming. Hold my hand if you can, I need a friend and I have so much to show you: after all, it’s time to tell Gilgamesh.
Peter Findlay, Hebden Bridge, Autumn 2017.