Monday, May 9, 2011

One Life Blossoms, Another Departs

    The three weeks since my last post have been quite eventful. As much as I have wanted to write, it seems there has been even more to think over. Just as the four-part series of posts last year on my childhood hurts and wounds that began with "Infliction: Childhood Wounds" forced me to wade into some of the painful memories of the past, the past three weeks have brought me once again to a point of facing some painful realities about life and myself. I think I'll start with the most recent, which was while attending a memorial service for Jamie's grandmother on Saturday.

    Jamie's grandmother had passed away last month, just a week or so short of Easter [1]. Although I've been to funerals before, this was the first time in my life I was attending a memorial service, so I didn't quite know what to expect. Nonetheless, it turned out to be quite a day for reflection, beginning with the trip there to the time I returned home.

    Dressed in a black suit and tie and clutching a boquet of flowers, I was headed out on the Skytrain (Vancouver's elevated rail transit system) to Commercial Drive station when a fellow passenger commented on the flowers and appreciated them. Asking if I was going to a special event, he expressed his sympathy when I mentioned that I was attending a memorial service. "We all have to face our mortality one day", I said with a sigh, voicing some of the thoughts in my head. He agreed, and I asked him if he had given it much thought. "Oh, yes", he replied. "I've been thinking about it for many years, and I'm comfortable with the idea of my mortality." Curious to hear more, I asked him what conclusion he had come to. "Well, we only go through this world once, so you've gotta value and take care of those around us, y'know? 'cos each time you see someone might be the last time you ever get to be with them." Somehow, this didn't seem terribly satisfactory to me, so I asked if he'd ever thought of life after death. "Well, I think there's a certain spirituality out there, kind of like this great circle of life, and we're all part of it. I could come back in another life, eh, maybe be return as a mosquito or something, y'know?"

    "That's it?", I thought to myself. That's it? After all the years of thiking he's devoted to it in contemplating his mortality, that's all he could come to? Take care of those around you. Be a "good" person to them, because you may not ever see them again. You're on a great circle of life, and there's no real way to tell, but there might be a possibility that you could come back as something else, though there's no way to tell what that "something" might be.

I hate listening to vague answers like that. I simply hate them.

    I suppose this revulsion stems in part from the kind of person that I am - I dislike vague directions and imprecise answers; I dislike half-sentences that hang in mid-air like a broken limb, with the assumption that I will somehow decrypt the message and put it all back together. I loathe being surprised with information at the last minute. I dislike them even more when they're camouflaged with bombastic words that have the appearance of intellectual sophistry. I hate them because they make me tense and leave people hanging. And I hate being left hanging.

There must be a better answer. There HAS TO BE. I refuse to accept anything less. I CAN'T.

    Catching a bus on the final leg of my journey to to the memorial home where the service was to be held, I saw a young Chinese couple tending to their little baby in a stroller. As the mother chatted with the child and the father tucked her in, I took in their shopping - a box of diapers, a watermelon stowed in the undercarriage of the stroller, and other things for a new family. The irony was not lost on me as I took it all in - watching the care and effort being poured into the blossoming of one life that had newly entered the world, while on my way to an event to remember another that had recently departed.

    I found myself thinking about parents and their children, and the transience of life. Looking at the little girl in the stroller, or any other infant for that matter, the last thing one usually thinks about is picturing that child at the end of its life - aged and dying, awaiting the inevitable coffin. But Jamie's grandmother was once a toddler like the one in front of me, just as my own parents and grandparents were. I looked at my hand and thought about myself and those of my own generation - what would happen when the time came for our own passing on? Would someone one day think the same thoughts on their way to my own funeral? Did it really matter if someone thought about me? Maybe not. I'm still processing these thoughts as I write this. The memorial service itself only gave me more to think about. As I sat down and looking around at everyone gathered there, I wondered who they were and what was going on in their heads. What were they thinking about? Were they contemplating the same things I was?

    At such times, eloquent discourses and the intellectual sophistry of philosophical postulation don't really offer much in terms of comfort. The acclaimed posits of the learned minds that dotted the textbook of the philosopical and political electives that I took during my undergraduate degree aren't very convincing. Deontologicalism, Teleologicalism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Epicurianism, Stoicism, Marxism, Capitalism, Communism - the 'isms' and schisms of the solemn supermen and self-styled imperial diplomatists offer very little to reflect upon. If anything, the questions only mushroom like the tell-tale aftermath of a nuclear detonation.

    I'm going to stop here for now and sort out some of the thoughts in my head. Before I go, I'd like to end with two sets verses from the Old Testament that have suddenly popped into my head. One is from the book of Job, the other from the book of Ecclesiastes:

    "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb,m and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'...Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (Job 1:20-21, 2:10, ESV)

    "Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from my by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness." (Psalm 16:13-15, ESV)

    See you in the next post, after I've done some processing.
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] Phan Wai Sun -