Chapter  6

Portrait with a death’s skull 

Saturday, and a light snowfall. The snow melts away. I drive to the mail office, which is located in the local grocery store, to pick up today’s edition of the newspaper Klassekampen (Class Struggle) from my mailbox. I page through the paper, and get a mild shock. On page three there is a portrait of me. The portrait is drawn by the young artist Knut Løvås and consists of four pictures, or frames.

            In the first frame I am portraited holding a death’s skull in my right hand. In the next frame both my head and the skull are slightly transformed. In the third frame the transformation has come further. In the fourth frame I stand with the death’s skull on the top of my neck while I hold my own head in my hand.

            I find the portrait macabre, and shiver a little. But is this picture a sign that the newspaper where I was formerly an editor wishes to see me dead?

            Oh, no!

            The portrait is an illustration to an article written by a monk. Do monks write in a leftist newspaper like Klassekampen? No, not many monks do, but one does, on a regular basis. He is a different voice in the newspaper, and as a such he is welcome to many readers, including me.

            His name is Arnfinn Haram, and he calls himself Brother Arnfinn. He is a friar who belongs to the Order of the Dominicans, of the St Dominikus Kloster (monastery) in Oslo.

            Does Brother Arnfinn want to see me dead?

            Oh, no!

            In his article he comments upon my views of death and the afterlife. I do not beleive in a life after death, and in this the monk and I of course disagree. A few weeks ago Brother Arnfinn wrote favourably in Klassekampen about my internet book ”Brev fra de troende”. He praised what he found to be honesty and willingness to engage in debate with Christian believers.

            Now Brother Arnfinn writes about a review in Klassekampen of my book, written by the poet Espen Stueland. It was a very positive review. Stueland questioned why I had not published the book in a paper edition, which he thought I should have done. He speculated that the reason for publishing only on the web might be that  I was shy about the text.

            And, yes, I was shy about it because I compromise myself, or rather give myself away. I wrote openly, as I will do now in ”Under the Blood Tree”, about my anxiety and fear. But my self-consciousness was not so bad that I couldn’t defeat it and publish ”Brev fra de troende”. The real reason for selecting the web as the medium, was that the book was hastily written and not composed and edited like I think a printed book should be. It is the same with the book you are reading now. It is written at full speed, over log and stone,  as we say in Norwegian, ”over stokk og stein”, and published on the web, in the free spirit of the web.

           I am not a particularily bashful person. Am I self-centred? Yes I am, like most authors. Sometimes I’m too wrapped up in myself, too obsessed with my illness and the thoughts of death. But I hope this self-absorption is not leading me into egomania. I write to share my inner thoughts with you, and with the hope that I can provoke discussion about the big questions of life, death and afterlife. And maybe, on a good day, touch some hearts.

          Brother Arnfinn writes that for a long time it has been unusual to write about illness, body and death in relation to what comes after death, and goes on: ”This is what Michelet’s book is dealing with. It is a book about metaphysics, about faith, about God, prayer, and eternal life. Even if Michelet does not manage to beleive, he manages to write about themes that are taboos in contemporary literature. He is shy – but he defeats his shyness.”

          Good words here from Brother Arnfinn.

          However different our fundamental points of view are – we are worlds apart – do I feel a kind of spiritual relationship with this man, who jokingly calls himself a monk from the Medieval Age. He writes that very few of our convictions sit only in the head, they sit in the body and in what he calls ”livskjensla”. For this word I find no translation in my dictionary.

             Maybe attitude towards life would do? Or the feeling of life? The sense of life?

            The sensation of life!

            I perfectly agree with Brother Arnfinn on this point. Convictions are connected to the body. If you are healthy and okey, you have optimistic convictions. If, like me, you are hit by a serious disease like cancer, it of course affects not only the body, but the soul, too. Your convictions change from light blue to dark blue, a blackish blue, the colour of the sea just before sunset. When seriously sick, the sensation of life is not only different from what it was before. It may be replaced by a sensation of death, imminent death. It has done for me, but luckily this sensation has not been permanent, it comes in flashes, and then vanishes.

            Quite a few non-beleivers experience that this new and darker sensation of life turn them towards faith in a divine power. Their conviction changes, often rather quickly. I have not turned. I have not changed. And I continously wonder why I haven’t. Being in a dark mood I would be happy to see the light. But I do not see it.

            Brother Arnfinn writes: ”Is Michelet’s book not to a high degree at story about unexpected and surprising meetings with beleiving persons? Whom he dared let come close to him because the disease and thoughts of death had broken a hole in his armour.”

            Yes, my armour – or Panzer as they say in German – was broken. And I wish to go on meeting Christian beleivers, to test myself. Later this month, I am going to speak at a meeting arranged by Catholic students in Oslo. I’ll discuss questions of belief with the historian Hans Fredrik Dahl, who converted from atheism to Catholicism after he had a stroke which he thought he would not survive. He became a deathbed convertite.

            I have said with the Greek philosopher Epikur: ”When I am, death is not. When death is, I am not.”

            Brother Arnfinn writes: ”Michelet says that he still agrees in this (Epikur’s saying). But he has given himself permission to not be quite sure for a while. That may be dangerous.”

            Yes, it is dangerous to open up for thoughts very different from the basic thoughts one has had since youth. But here is no other way if one wants to get to clarity, to check if opinions hold.

            I look at he picture in the newspaper. And I prefer the first frame, where I stand in an affected attitude like Hamlet.


  Chapter  5

Chapter  7