I don’t want to ascribe to the philosophy of ‘The show must go on’ when a great loss occurs in the middle of life. To stop everything we are doing, to pay our respects, and mourn, and remember and treasure memories that we made together – that is what I want to be treated as normal when a death occurs in a family. 2018 has been a year of losing precious loved ones. Life has a timetable; death has none. It comes uninvited; it comes unbidden, and it stays longer than expected. The grief, and the enervating effect that bereavement has on the family is the heaviest of burdens to bear. And sometimes the untimely deaths of loved ones can be accompanied by the kind of impotent anger with which W.H.Auden wrote his poem:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, ‘He is Dead.’
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
One can understand why he rages at the indifference of the world in the face of the death of a dearly loved one. For that period of time, all actions are rendered meaningless by the pain of loss, the abiding reality of death. Makes you think about the whole purpose of living, doesn’t it? Or makes you rethink it again. Is the bitter, long-drawn out quarrel with a neighbour over land encroachment worth it? Or the offenses we harbor against people for their thoughtless words and deeds? At the end of it, death is so waiting for us, each of us, all of us.
What is the purpose of life? It sounds such a vague question, like something thrown in to break the silence that death brings. But in the wake of death, one is confronted with this question again and again. I think kindness is the purpose of life. To live caring for each other, friend or foe, to see beyond greeting each other and see the needs of the other, to do more than we expect of ourselves by meeting people’s physical needs and sometimes, spiritual needs – that is the purpose of life.
A man had a near death experience in which he died and was taken to heaven. But he had no knowledge of heaven because he had lived a life minus God. There he was told that the purpose of man was to take care of other humans, to take care of the earth and all its creatures. The caring for the earth included caring for the natural environment. So far man has been very good at taking dominion of nature and her resources without fulfilling his share of taking care of nature. And our oceans are suffocating in plastic waste and our burning forests are directly related to human failure to carry out his purpose on earth. Life on earth comes with conditions and we humans have not been very faithful at keeping our end of the bargain. Life on earth is temporary, but all the more reason for us to leave it in a better condition than the way we found it.
Back to death now. It is a good thing when it comes in its time. It is, paradoxical as it might sound, rest and peace; rest from suffering, from disease, from the pain of the cure. And when it comes, it is the beginning, not the end. Real life begins with death, it has to. How can it end when a flawed body vulnerable to infection and decay, comes to the limits of its being? Death is not death; it is introduction to Life as it is meant to be lived.