Per ardua ad astra
Hello from Leeds, it’s raining, yesterday we had the sun and through the main strip of the centre, Briggate, people were drinking in the bars and in the streets, stealing energy drink cans from a local supermarket and running out, a young couple who had been thrown out of a club rang their friends with loud lengthy complaints. I use Sundays to reflect on the week so kept walking and up into the quiet streets where I found a cafe and a table and some food, and got out my notepad.
I’m working in the UK, no more Afghanistan for a while, it seems. Instead, I have Burnley nearby and visit my family more. Chatting with my dad recently reminded me we have it better here. I feel lucky that my parents came here, it’s hard at times (where isn’t?), but on the whole I’m grateful for the opportunities, the healthcare, the freedoms. Coughing up blood in Kabul last year for me meant getting a flight back to London and treatment, in my hometown in Pakistan it could simply have meant death. Six months of blood thinners and I’m doing fine.
I thought more about death after burying my friend, Mark. He was 45 years old. His funeral was on the 24th of March at St James’ Church in Briercliffe, Burnley. I helped carry him in and three of his friends, including me, gave his eulogy. From it, this excerpt—
“To talk about how Mark was gives us a measure of him…
He was a thinking man, pushed me to be one too, he wouldn't take a weak answer, would weigh it up, was there reason, was there proof? And if there wasn't you keep going until you got there. Talking to Mark was often exciting because you knew you would be going somewhere new in your thoughts…
He would recommend writers who described other places, other ways to be, to not play within the normal limits. To dare.
He had his health issues but that never made him a victim. He refused to give in. Chose instead to live harder.
And over the years, in the days, hours, sometimes in only a few minutes on a phone, he shared with me what he knew was important, to think, to do, not to sit and cry about a thing, to work hard, to move. A true friend will push you.
To live a good honest full life of structure and attainment and love. That's what Mark believed in…
That was, is Mark King. The way he lived showed who he was, he did well as my friends have attested and what he did with his success, his thoughts, his position, with what he had learned was to share it. To want it for others.
I want Mark for you. To share what he taught me. That it’s important to think, to do, to read, not to sit and cry about a thing, to work hard, to move. To live a good honest full life of structure and attainment and love.
Thank you, mate.”
I’ve edited around half of it out but it was the values that struck me again on the Sunday while I wrote. Was I living up to my own? It is easy to miss what is important to us, so I wrote them out again, wrote out where I wanted to be, how would I get there. That ending is a place based on my values. Along the way each day I would do the small things that got me there. And not just for myself, for others. Going back home more I see my nieces and nephews shortening their attention spans glued to screens. I thought about living more.
My brother and I have a plan. He reads for hours in a day. Our parents migrated from Asia to Europe for a better life, their children moved from the mill towns to the cities for one, the grandchildren need to make a move too, from the screen to the book. I take home physical magazines of current affairs and he aims to introduce the children to books. Over tea last week we could both see how books had helped us. Part of my daily routine is to read outside of my work, to read an argument or opinion that I may not agree with, or something else that interests me so I can learn from it, be it science or maths or philosophy but usually it’s a piece of critical thinking or opinion.
Today that’s a Big Read from the Financial Times titled “The teen mental health crisis: a reckoning for Big Tech”. The FT has been a long standing subscription, along with The Economist and from over the water, Harper’s. If you have others you’d recommend please do. I cancelled The New Yorker and The Atlantic last year after looking at the list I was subscribing to and found it a little long, the most recent has been Prospect—what are yours?