via the Independent – Terry Pratchett graffiti popped up all over the UK upon his death.
When you hear the life some people have lived, it’s hard not to look back down the path of your own and let regret poke you in the ribs. I don’t feel regret very often and it often leaves, grumbling, as quickly as it came. This week I was lucky enough to interview journalist, filmmaker, political activist and author Tariq Ali, who is in Sydney for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. By sheer luck, when I made contact with him earlier in the year, he accepted the invitation to come to speak with my senior History students about his thoughts around how and why history is constructed.
Listening to his stories of being in North Vietnam during the bombings of Hanoi during the war (having been prompted to go there by two giants of philosophy, just two of many influential people in his world), or being captured en route to meet Che Guevara, or any number of other anecdotes, it was very hard indeed not to think my life experience – as full as I believe it has been – was a drop of ink in an ocean of potential.
Nevertheless, the conversation – led by questions from my students, not me – formed one of those special experiences that anyone in the room will fail to shake off for some time, if at all. It was a learning experience where you could see the mind of each person on fire with deep and expansive thought; where our shared experience reached out like tendrils of invisible energy between and amongst us, wrapping us all in this common moment. Despite the onset of the day-to-day, it is a moment that has left its mark on my mind, and hopefully for my students as well.
This week I also finished the final book by Sir Terry Pratchett, whose books I started to read when I was about 15. The characters that populate his Discworld universe, the mirror he holds up to our own world, the intelligent playfulness with which he treats the English language, all have had a real impact on me in terms of how I think, how I communicate and how I see the world. This is what great art should do. He is the only author to whom I have gone back and read a book (several actually) so many times the dust jackets are worn from use.
There is a living, breathing legacy that remains behind from artists, thinkers and others who make their purpose to make a positive impact on the lives of others. For me at least, the language and ideas of Terry Pratchett have left a warm glow after his fire went out earlier this year. He was a deceptively funny author: you never quite knew when a soul-touching insight or piece of advice would suddenly confront you from his words. You might be laughing (out loud) at a very funny joke – often targeted at something in our world – and then very soon afterwards you’d have to stop, look up from the book, and realise that the advice given by a witch to a wizard applies to you.
I hope that Terry is doing well, wherever he is. I’d like to think that as he moved on to what’s next, that all his characters were waiting for him in silent, friendly honour guard, thanking him for bringing them to life and sharing them with our world. The wizards and witches would take off their hats and bow, the guards would salute, even the Feegles would stop fighting just long enough for him to pass. And then, when he’s welcomed by Death (one of my favourite characters) his characters turn back to us, remaining behind to give us advice, to hold up the mirror, to make us think.
With the current crises that exist, especially those relating to our human responsibility to help those in need, it’s tempting to throw our hands in the air and let things fall where they may. But here’s an idea: regardless of the issue, regardless of the scale, regardless of how we have dealt with it in the past, let’s work out what kind of world we want to live in, then make it happen. If this one isn’t good enough, we need to build it.