Tag: Bullfighting

A meditation on Death


Every town dweller maintains an oasis. A patch of grass, green plants; a garden. This is an unconscious ritual of hope. There is a desert a few hundred kilometres away to the East. The sea is 5 kilometres away to the west. Brutal summer heat sucks everything dry and twice a week, we fight back with water. It is an endless cycle. It is an apt metaphor for the short lives we live on a fast moving rock that turns on itself whilst circling a star that is dying a slow and glorious death.

We love and, if we are lucky, are loved back. A welcome parenthesis in the absurd text of our lives, If we are fortunate, is the gift of children. If they remain happy and healthy then we are doubly blessed. At some point the people we love begin to die and the grief caused by their leaving either draws us closer to the faith of our choice or illuminates the absurdity of the condition of being alive. Perhaps both? I live in a constant state of mourning. Acutely aware of the imminent demise of everyone, I feel in all moments the loss of those with whom I am walking on the beach, for whom I make a cup of tea, with whom I look up at the sky and draw from the stacks of cumulus some shape or face or meaning. I live with the pain of loss even when nothing is lost. I anticipate pain the way swallows anticipate rain. There is a joy and a heavy grief in seeing the quick dives and low sweeps of these delicate birds. Some are drawn to the sea whose constant rows of falling froth laugh at the littleness of our human fear of endings. I am all endings says the sea. I end all of the time and look at me, see how large I am and with what force I end. Then our own ending seems alright and even normal, usual.


Against the violent current of nihilism I water the grass, the plants or dig a hole and place into it something alive in the hope that it will grow after I am dead. Hope is difficult. Putting a foot onto the floor and then the other is sometimes the most positivity I can bring to a day. Yet, I do not consider myself a negative person. Beyond the front door I am all smiles and mischief. The ones I love bare the brunt of my contradictory nature. My home is the birthplace of my being and I am not yet fully formed. It is here that I may express my disgust at the absurdity of human existence. Here that I hate people and love my dogs; despise the world and love my wife and children. I will love and hate with passion. I empty the glass of my being so that I am able to go out into my classroom and teach empathy and compassion. I can do this because I need it most and because I hate my self at times and people and the condition of life does not mean that I hate my self or life or the condition of being alive.

I am establishing limits. I will no longer entertain the simple minded. Those who elevate dogma of any brand above simple humanity. I cannot entertain such nihilistic stupidity. My brand of nihilism is entirely different. I marvel at the infinite dance of atoms whose rhythm gave rise to me. I am in awe of night skies and ants and feel the cosmos reshuffle itself in the dying twitches of a bee on a windowsill. I am grateful, to the deepest recess of consciousness, for my life and the ones in it that I love. I am also mindful of the incessant grief that marks the boundary of my existence. I will not accept this without some act of rage. Doesn’t my rage against the absurdity of life confirm my deep attachment to it? I find living to be a precious and beautiful event. I am just pissed off at a very deep level that it must end. If one’s finger bleeds at finding a thorn on the stem of a rose, one does not assume the rose hates you. The pain is an anomaly I am still attempting to understand.

I was entranced by a bullfight I watched in Madrid one Sunday afternoon at Easter. It was a manifestation of my conflicted being; the personality of soul on display. Ten minutes is all it takes to represent life. Our wilful pride swells as we swagger boldly and well dressed into the world silently crying out “look at me, look at me! Am I not the finest thing that ever lived? Am I not splendid? There in the prime of our lovely and beautiful naiveté we say to ourselves ‘but this is easy. Why did our parents and their old friends warn us about life? It is not hard at all. It is marvellously simple and I am so grand.’ Then from nowhere a bull is unleashed and it is not just there it is heaving and powerful and wants to dig its horns into you. My God, something wants me dead! How can that be? I am too pretty and young and wonderful to die? Then there is the battle and this beast that is as beautiful as you must die, or you will die. Life becomes in a moment not the style of your walk or the angle of your smile at admirers; it is simply that if you do not choose an action you will die. Something always dies at the end of it. At least once it will be you. Until then we must learn to not be so arrogant, to understand that everyone is beautiful and that everyone has their bull.

By Mike Scallan

Stacking chairs: last lesson of the day via Hemingway and a bullfight

It’s 34 degrees Celsius, 27 students have just arrived from double maths, it’s the last period of the day. They are like prison inmates smelling freedom for the first time. Grown men have taken flight from less terrifying prospects than trying to teach English under these circumstances.

… , then Devon starts throwing the pieces of an eraser he has been meticulously slicing into cubes at Jonathan on the opposite side of the classroom. Jonathan has been drawing a dragon, that’s really quite cool, and looks with bewilderment up at the ceiling which gets the trebuchet crew to begin buckling over in restrained laughter. Meanwhile Alice is deeply engaged in coversation with Molly who, having caught my stare, is feigning interest while under the desk her hand is trying to shush her friend or at least draw her attention to me. Jill, Skye and Candice, bless them, are disassociating from the class by focusing on me with such intent it’s quite unnerving. Jack and Ben are duelling light sabers that look just like pencils, their sound effects are fantastic!
I sense a disturbance in the force paduans, put aside your weapons, someone may get hurt. As I walk away I can hear the light sabers deactivating.

With faultering enthusiasm I explain how Hemingway’s writing is like an iceberg. Most of what’s important is not written, not seen, we have to fill in the gaps…
Like the gaps between Tony’s teeth? Josh shouts.
Tony, your teeth are fine, unlike the gap between Joshua’s ears. Josh leads the laughter, I smile, high five him. Ok, we’re on.
Hemingway loved bullfighting. One of his mates was gored, got a horn where you don’t want one. They’re sufficiently intrigued. A little blood goes a long way, and I am in blood stepped so far I must go on.

Sometimes, the bull wins. The bullfight is a metaphor for life,
Picasso was intrigued by the bullfight as well. The matador has ten minutes to make a clean kill. As the frothing, bleeding ton of muscle charges you, you must stand your ground and drive the sword behind the neck down into the heart.
I demonstrate the swirl and downward thrust with the board ruler, quite elegantly I believe.

Sir, if there was a bull here, I reckon you’d be dead.

Thanks Davo for that vote of confidence.
Undeterred I continue. You know, sometimes school or reading a novel for English can feel like being chased by a bull. What do you do?

You grab a white-board ruler and stab it sir? Josh says, he’s on a roll.

You do whatever you need to do, but you stand your ground and do it, I say.

Just “do it” Chris jabs Donovan in the ribs, raucous laughter ripples through the class.

Yep, that’s how you fight your bulls.

Then one day you wake up and realise that all this stuff you’ve been doing, is actually for yourself. That’s a great moment, one I hope you all have. It’s about looking at things differently. Changing your perspective …

The end of the day arrives and I ask the students to stack their chairs. A daily ritual to acknowledge the people coming in later to clean, a nod of thanks and a closure. They stack their chairs. Some of them show me they’ve listened to what I’ve said. They’re looking at things differently, and I’m the richer for it. Thanks guys, you make me smile from the inside out.