Monday, January 17, 2011

Death Came Calling...And Took My Friend

    Since the New Year began, people close to me have experienced death in the passing on of their loved ones or are experiencing it now, as a loved one teeters on the brink between life and death. Barely a few hours after publishing my last post reflecting on the LOTR and our choice of what to do with our time here, I received an e-mail with a link to an online news article [1], bearing the news that death had come calling closer to home last week - and taken a friend.

Yeswanth in Sikkim, a province in India bordered by China, Nepal and Bhutan
    Yeswanth was my classmate during my Undergraduate years studying Engineering in India. He was also one of my assigned roomates while living ion campus during our second year. We had met in first year while living in separate rooms around the corner from each other - him in room 228, me in room 245. Tall, gentle and soft-spoken with a quiet smile and great sense of humour, he was very friendly and easy to get along with. I last saw him 6 years ago, after finishing one of the last exams of our Undergraduate degree - his in Electronics and Communication Engineering, mine in Electronics and Instrumentation. We chatted occasionally online over the years, but lost contact over time. The news article said that he had been killed in an automobile accident last Thursday, ten days after joining a division of Hewlett-Packard India in a major city as a Software Engineer. Rear-ended by a cement mixer truck while travelling in an autorickshaw (a motorized three-wheel taxi) on his morning commute to work, the collision crushed the autorickshaw between the  truck and a public transit bus in front of it. Neither Yeswanth or the driver stood a chance; they died instantly. The photo of the wreckage was barely recognizable; only the black and yellow paint with the remaining front tire and the white cement mixer in the background provided a clue of what it had once been.

Over in an instant: This is all that was left
    Yeswanth had just turned 27 years old when he died; his birthday was at the beginning of the year. The taxi driver was only 28 himself. Dead before the age of 30.

    Trying to process the shock of what I had just read, I visited his Facebook page. I don't know why. What I was hoping to find there? A wall post from him saying, "Hey everyone, I'm ok, it's just a joke!"? Instead, a flood of condolence messages posted on his wall from friends and co-workers hammered the finality of the fact home - Yeswanth was gone, and wasn't coming back. Reading some of the messages and dealing with my own feelings in the process, I thought I'd put some of my thoughts down here to help me think through things myself. I hope it'll help those who are aborbing it themselves, or trying to come to grips with it.

    My head seems to process the statement "Yeswanth died in a car accident" reasonably well. Six words, simple conept, not too much trouble, you'd think. But my heart rebels against this simplistic denial with a mental and emotional uproar that refuses to shut up. It can't understand the concept of 'gone'. Yeswanth's gone. Gone? What do you mean, gone? Gone where? Gone, as in permanently?! No, it's not possible! We chatted the other day. I just saw photos of him on Facebook and posts on his wall. How can someone suddenly disappear like that? Don't talk rubbish. Despite the reality of a world where death comes calling every day - in hospitals, homes, offices, automobile accidents, plane crashes, sinking ships, battlefields, warzones, murders, atrocities and all manner of ending human life, we seem to live in an automatic and oblivious denial, as if it could not possibly happen to us or those in our little social bubble. But when it does, we react with a shocked incredulity that would be comical, if the occasion were not so tragic. "OMG, how could he die?", we find ourselves asking, as if it were something unheard of in the universe.

    The denial only escalates knowing that he died so young. Somehow, we all live life with a natural and unconscious assumption that we are meant to die only at a ripe old age, after living a full life and experiencing every step along the way. I guess it's the natural optimism that God creates us with, that every couple who wants children have as they realize they're going to have a baby, and hold their new-born in their arms for the first time. No parent starts out envisioning that their pride and joy will unexpectedly die along the way, before they do. "No parent should have to bury their child", says King Theoden with sorrow in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King, as he watches his son's funeral procession. In that one sentence, he verbalizes our assumptions that there is a right way that life is to be lived. There is an instinctive retaliation against anything to the contrary, as if we have an awareness that this is not the way the world is supposed to be, not the way life is to be lived, not the way we are supposed to die. 

    But days after his passing, and the expression of sorrow by all who have known him that will have to give way to acceptance over time, there is a haunting question that refuses to go away, expressed indirectly on his Facebook wall:

Yeswanth is gone, but where? What happened to him? Where is he?

    As I write this, he is not the only one from my years in Undergrad that I think about. Roughly two years ago, I got a similar e-mail bearing the news that Terrin Jacob had driven home after a party having had too much to drink. He lost control of his car, crashed it into a wall and died on the way to hospital. He was from the class below me, and only 24 when he died.
Terrin Jacob as I remember him

    I think I need to stop here for this post and carefully digest all that's going through my head right now. I'll write more later. See you then.

- The Wisdom Seeker

  [1] Killer truckers Claim 5 Lives: 3 Accidents In 24 Hours


   This post was the first that led to a four-part series on life, death, purpose and realizations about all of them. The full series is listed below: