I wrote this tweet last month:
That’s true, by the way. May 25th 2005, when Liverpool won the Champions League for the first and only time in my 29 years of supporting them, was the happiest day of my life. I’ve had experiences of love and creative achievement since then that have meant the world to me but for sheer exhilaration and unexpected joy, that day in 2005 probably won’t be topped. I’m not saying that’s a positive reflection on my character or my sense of priorities, incidentally. I’m really not.
My worst day was March 23rd 1998. I was at the doctor’s. I hadn’t been feeling well for several months. My GP sat across from me solemnly and said, “You’re going to be okay. And I want you to hang on to that sentence because the rest of what I’m about to tell you is pretty awful. You’re very, very ill. I’m almost certain you have Crohn’s Disease and I need to get you into hospital.”
I don’t remember how I found out the details of Ernest Hemingway’s death. I’m unsure if I read about it somewhere or heard it mentioned on television. I was in my twenties because it was after I had read The Sun Also Rises but I couldn’t narrow it down much further than that. I was stunned. I’d never thought about it but I’m sure I assumed that he had died a contented elderly man, leaving behind a body of work of which he was immensely proud. How could he not be? But no.
“He shot himself? Hemingway? Ernest Hemingway? No fucking way. That can’t be right. Why would he do that? He had no reason to. He was amazing.”
But of course, that’s spectacularly missing the point. You never really know what someone else is going through. We forget that frequently, I think. I certainly have, on far too many occasions. The overarching lesson I took from the Hemingway revelation, though – and the useless thing I know about – is that everything is a snapshot; a temporary photograph, fading and dissolving from the moment it’s taken. Your current situation. The people in it. Your state of wellbeing. How happy you are. How sad you are. How successful you are. How unsuccessful you are. It’s Snapchat, essentially. Snapchat is a microcosm of life. If someone as utterly masterful at his craft as Hemingway could conclude that he didn’t want to live another day, well then, every accomplishment is merely a fleeting moment in time and every triumph is transient. Just like every failure.
Ten years on from my best day and seventeen years on from my worst, those things are flipped. Liverpool are terrible but my health is excellent. So, you know, that strikes me as a pretty good trade-off. But neither of those things are permanent. They’re just snapshots of now, already fading and dissolving.