Sunday, June 14, 2009

Always dressed

I was recently reading some first person accounts of people whose lives had been ravaged by conflict and one particular story just stayed with me. The woman said, and I paraphrase, "We are always dressed because we don't know when we might have to leave." She spoke of sleeping with her shoes on and the uncertainty of her life resonated with me at a level I didn't expect.

In this past year, metaphorically speaking, I too have been "always dressed", living at an unsustainable level of alertness that is now beginning to tell on me. When one has an end in sight or when it is a known or familiar transition, the mind, body and emotion synergize and deal with the uncertainty knowing it is just a phase. Quite like the marathon runner sprinting towards the finish line after consistently putting rubber to tarmac, step after step after step, overcoming all physical and mental resistance. The uncertainty that the boys and I deal with every moment of every day is seemingly endless, the marathon started a little over a year ago and we're still running - step after step after step - with little idea of direction or meaning.

I know and understand, at an intellectual level, that things will change, this too shall pass and maybe we will settle into an uncertain certainty. In every other way, I have been beaten into exhaustion, surrender and apathy because I've realized - what is the point if you're "always dressed" when there's no where to go?


Due to cost cutting directives, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off.
-Joke sent by SMS

Monday, June 8, 2009

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave..."

God's Acres, obituaries and remembrances have always held a fascination for me. I believe they define the transcience of our lives and give weight to the present. Some obituaries are exemplary biographies of lives that inspire you to live larger, dream bigger and love more. Remembrances, however, are a different kettle of fish. The time lag between the passing and the remembering gives me pause. How long before the grief year, two...ten years...a lifetime...never?

On a windy, overcast day in January a few years ago, I dragged a friend to visit some of the oldest cemeteries of Hong Kong. Carved cheek-by-jowl into a hillside in Happy Valley, these cemeteries hold the dead of three religious denominations. Ornate headstones, cairns, unmarked graves and a columbarium are visited by the living - to pay respect, to talk to loved ones, to find a lost relative and some like me, out of a morbid curiosity to see the place of rest of the hundreds that marked the history of the city.

Cut to after Shekhar's death. On a blustery and wet English morning, as our older son and I walked past a church cemetery in St Albans he said, "I am so glad Dad isn't buried. If he was, I'd always feel a pull to come back to see him. At least this way he is free, not lying in the ground somewhere." I was surprised by the insight and wisdom that lay behind his observation. I couldn't agree with him more because although it was extremely painful to consign Shekhar's physical body to flames, it was an essential step towards letting go at both an emotional and spiritual level. I cannot say when we will get there or if we ever will but I do know a semblance of peace from knowing that he is not bound to a small piece of earth...we can talk to him anywhere, anytime and he can listen.


"Never say of anything, "I have lost it," but "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. "But he who took it away is a bad man." What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it, but don't view it as your own..."

Epictetus, in the Enchiridion