Archives for posts with tag: death

There is a time in life when you suddenly realize that your parents will die someday.  Of course you know that everyone will die someday.  What I mean is that suddenly you realize that your parents are getting older (with accelerated aging rate), and that ‘someday’ may not be too far from today.  This wake up call does not necessarily take the form of a serious illness.  It may be little yet undeniable signs, such as the time when you notice that your father – who rightfully takes pride in his sharp memory – forgets something, or when you notice that your mother – who is known as Energizer in the family – sometimes gets tired.

So you take a deep breath, trying to estimate (for you can’t help doing this) how much time you still have with them.  Twenty years or more, you try to calm yourself, for did not all your grandparents reach their late seventies or early eighties?  Then you remember that we are all just frail human beings, and chide yourself for trying to determine something that is only the Almighty to determine.  Then you start worrying, what if it is shorter than that?  Fifteen years, ten years, five years?  Then you frantically list all the things that you still want to do.  What about the grandchildren they have not seen, what about your dream of having them see you become a successful person, what about the businesses you have not yet taken over, what about all the cooking recipes you have yet to learn from your mother?

Then you remind yourself that worrying does not take you anywhere.  So you take another deep breath, and apply Dale Carnegie’s three principles, only that you straightaway fail.  For the first principle is to list the worst case scenario, and the second is to accept that it may happen.  Having failed the first and the second, you jump to the last: to plan some actions which may improve the situation.  Should you take a long unpaid leave to learn the business from your father?  Should you stop postponing pregnancy? Should you take your parents to various health screenings? Should you forbid your father eating his favourite-but-not-healthy food?

After that you regain part of your common sense and again chide yourself for trying to plan and determine what the Almighty alone may and can determine.  And now that you remember God, you start pleading, ‘bargaining’ if you are bold enough – bargaining with numbers as Abraham once did.  Abraham tried to get the smallest number possible, but you tried to get the longest time possible.  Twenty years, thirty years?  Then again you chide yourself for thinking that you know better than your God, and resign yourself with those often-said-rarely-meant words: Thy will be done.

There is a time in life when you suddenly realize that your parents will die someday.  For some people, that time comes early in life.  There are young children who lost their parents because of illnesses or accidents.  For some other, the even less fortunate ones, their parents may not play that much important role in their life due to various reasons, thus when that time of realization comes it barely troubles them.

But for most people, who are fortunate to have decent parents with average (or above average) life span, that time generally comes when they are beginning to start their own life, when they start being classified as young adults.  As becoming an adult means you have to take care of so many things (paying bills, buying a house, starting a family, planning your finances, let alone raising your children), this is generally also the time when you begin to appreciate how much your parents have done for you.  You suddenly feel that life has become so busy and wonder why your life was so carefree before.  It does not take a sage to answer; there have always been so many things to take care of in life, but you could be carefree because until recently, your parents take care of all that for you.

At that realization and appreciation, you again chide yourself for the many times you fail to appreciate your parents, and resolve to make it up to them, and because you need time to do all this you repeat your pleading, bargaining prayer (almost forgetting the ‘Thy will be done’ you just said few minutes before). Twenty years, thirty years?

Then you start reasoning with yourself, why should you be so worried about death?  You are a Christian, who believes in the resurrection, who professes that death needs not be feared for Christ our Lord that path has trod.  The answer comes at once: you are not worried about death, you are just worried because you still want to be with them.  Yes, you look forward to the resurrection, to see them again someday, but that day seems too far off.

After all this reasoning and worrying, you take yet another deep breath, and welcome yourself to the complex world of adults.  After this you will look at children the way your boring aunties used to look at you: longingly and fondly.  For the world of children is another world which gate is now closed to you.

David, king of Israel, uttered that heart-breaking cry upon learning that his third son had been killed.  O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God that I had died for thee!

It occurred to me that many decades after, another parent in the same land might have uttered a similar lament.  As she cradled his son’s battered body in her arms, Mary might have had the same thought.   O my son, my son, my son! Would God that I had died for thee!   The phrase “heart-breaking” applies to her even more than it does David, for a sword pierced her soul, too.

I could not help thinking that perhaps a father might have cried together with her.  O my son, my son, my son!  Except that the Father would not say ‘would God’, I suppose.  But this is something that I would not venture to speculate or write about.

And of course, throughout the ages, many parents throughout the world have had to suffer a similar painful moment.  Young soldiers killed in battles; children died of various illnesses; teenagers died of traffic accidents … Why, my own grandmother buried two of her eight children.  I believe that to outlive one’s children is among the most grievous miseries one could experience.

To return to our first subject (please bear my imaginations), long after David came to the land of the dead, on what must have been a very strange day in Hades, perhaps he learned that another son of his had died.  And this time the death served a greater purpose.  Absalom died as he betrayed his father; this other Son died for David.  Absalom died as he rebelled against David’s reign; this other Son of David died to right another, much more ancient, rebellion.

Some excerpts from George MacDonald’s “Lilith”.

The titular character, Lilith (the princess), was an “angelic creature”, but she desired to be a goddess and turned to evil.  She was finally subdued by Mara (a representation of good), but she refused to repent.

“Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?” said Mara gently.

The princess did not answer. Mara put the question again, in the same soft, inviting tone.

Still there was no sign of hearing. She spoke the words a third time.

Then the seeming corpse opened its mouth and answered, its words appearing to frame themselves of something else than sound.—I cannot shape the thing further: sounds they were not, yet they were words to me.

“I will not,” she said. “I will be myself and not another!”

“Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?”

“I will be what I mean myself now.”

“If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?”

“I would do after my nature.”

“You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!”

“I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires.”

“You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?”

Finally Lilith saw herself and began to repent. Mara said:

“She (Lilith) is far away from us, afar in the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch.”

Soon it was Mr. Vane (the main character)’s turn to sleep. He went to sleep willingly and his experience, as he later recorded, is as follows:

I grew aware of existence, aware also of the profound, the infinite cold. I was intensely blessed—more blessed, I know, than my heart, imagining, can now recall. I could not think of warmth with the least suggestion of pleasure. I knew that I had enjoyed it, but could not remember how. The cold had soothed every care, dissolved every pain, comforted every sorrow. COMFORTED? Nay; sorrow was swallowed up in the life drawing nigh to restore every good and lovely thing a hundredfold! I lay at peace, full of the quietest expectation, breathing the damp odours of Earth’s bountiful bosom, aware of the souls of primroses, daisies and snowdrops, patiently waiting in it for the Spring.

How convey the delight of that frozen, yet conscious sleep! I had no more to stand up! had only to lie stretched out and still! How cold I was, words cannot tell; yet I grew colder and colder—and welcomed the cold yet more and more. I grew continuously less conscious of myself, continuously more conscious of bliss, unimaginable yet felt. I had neither made it nor prayed for it: it was mine in virtue of existence! and existence was mine in virtue of a Will that dwelt in mine.

Mr. Vane had his share of repentance, too.  Somehow the experience of Lilith (seeing herself for what she was, and despised what she saw) and of Mr. Vane (sincerely regretting the wrongs he had done not because of the penalty of such wrongs but because those he wronged now became so dear to him) remind me of … purgatory. I do not say that MacDonald intended these scenes as an illustration of purgatory, or that he promoted the concept of purgatory. He was a Protestant minister!

Then, of a sudden, but not once troubling my conscious bliss, all the wrongs I had ever done, from far beyond my earthly memory down to the present moment, were with me. Fully in every wrong lived the conscious I, confessing, abjuring, lamenting the dead, making atonement with each person I had injured, hurt, or offended. Every human soul to which I had caused a troubled thought, was now grown unspeakably dear to me, and I humbled myself before it, agonising to cast from between us the clinging offence. I wept at the feet of the mother whose commands I had slighted; with bitter shame I confessed to my father that I had told him two lies, and long forgotten them: now for long had remembered them, and kept them in memory to crush at last at his feet. I was the eager slave of all whom I had thus or anyhow wronged. Countless services I devised to render them! For this one I would build such a house as had never grown from the ground! for that one I would train such horses as had never yet been seen in any world! For a third I would make such a garden as had never bloomed, haunted with still pools, and alive with running waters! I would write songs to make their hearts swell, and tales to make them glow! I would turn the forces of the world into such channels of invention as to make them laugh with the joy of wonder! Love possessed me! Love was my life! Love was to me, as to him that made me, all in all!

And what happened after those who slept woke? The story told us that each one woke at their own time. When Mr. Vane woke, he found that the children whom he befriended in his journey have also been awake. Together, they set on their journey to the City.

But hark the herald of the sun, the auroral wind, softly trumpeting his approach! The master-minister of the human tabernacle is at hand! Heaping before his prow a huge ripple-fretted wave of crimson and gold, he rushes aloft, as if new launched from the urging hand of his maker into the upper sea—pauses, and looks down on the world. White-raving storm of molten metals, he is but a coal from the altar of the Father’s never-ending sacrifice to his children. See every little flower straighten its stalk, lift up its neck, and with outstretched head stand expectant: something more than the sun, greater than the light, is coming, is coming—none the less surely coming that it is long upon the road! What matters to-day, or to-morrow, or ten thousand years to Life himself, to Love himself! He is coming, is coming, and the necks of all humanity are stretched out to see him come! Every morning will they thus outstretch themselves, every evening will they droop and wait—until he comes.—Is this but an air-drawn vision? When he comes, will he indeed find them watching thus?

It was a glorious resurrection-morning. The night had been spent in preparing it!

Fluttering butterflies, darting dragon-flies hovered or shot hither and thither about our heads, a cloud of colours and flashes, now descending upon us like a snow-storm of rainbow flakes, now rising into the humid air like a rolling vapour of embodied odours. It was a summer-day more like itself, that is, more ideal, than ever man that had not died found summer-day in any world. I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his.

A great angel guided them to the glorious City. But when Mr. Vane almost reached the City, he felt a strong hand hold him and drew him to a door. Mr. Vane was pushed gently through the door, and suddenly he found himself in his (our) own world. I can imagine his regret in finding himself back to his normal life. Then I thought, was it all only a dream? Mr. Vane, or rather, MacDonald, thought the same thing. For in the next (that is, the last) chapter, he told us:

Can it be that that last waking also was in the dream? that I am still in the chamber of death, asleep and dreaming, not yet ripe enough to wake? Or can it be that I did not go to sleep outright and heartily, and so have come awake too soon? If that waking was itself but a dream, surely it was a dream of a better waking yet to come, and I have not been the sport of a false vision! Such a dream must have yet lovelier truth at the heart of its dreaming!

In moments of doubt I cry,

“Could God Himself create such lovely things as I dreamed?”

“Whence then came thy dream?” answers Hope.

“Out of my dark self, into the light of my consciousness.”

“But whence first into thy dark self?” rejoins Hope.

“My brain was its mother, and the fever in my blood its father.”

“Say rather,” suggests Hope, “thy brain was the violin whence it issued, and the fever in thy blood the bow that drew it forth.—But who made the violin? and who guided the bow across its strings? Say rather, again—who set the song birds each on its bough in the tree of life, and startled each in its order from its perch? Whence came the fantasia? and whence the life that danced thereto? Didst THOU say, in the dark of thy own unconscious self, ‘Let beauty be; let truth seem!’ and straightway beauty was, and truth but seemed?”

Man dreams and desires; God broods and wills and quickens.

When a man dreams his own dream, he is the sport of his dream; when Another gives it him, that Other is able to fulfil it.

Mr. Vane concluded his story by stating that his experience (or his dream) changed the way he saw his life. He did not try to re-enter his dream, but he looked forward to that day when he will be finally awake.

I have never again sought the mirror. The hand sent me back: I will not go out again by that door! “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.”

Strange dim memories, which will not abide identification, often, through misty windows of the past, look out upon me in the broad daylight, but I never dream now. It may be, notwithstanding, that, when most awake, I am only dreaming the more! But when I wake at last into that life which, as a mother her child, carries this life in its bosom, I shall know that I wake, and shall doubt no more.

I wait; asleep or awake, I wait.