In deciding to live overseas for a protracted period of time, I had to consider the consequences of living so far away from home. It would be inevitable that I would miss births, birthdays, at least one wedding, and other celebrations with family and friends. I had hoped that I would not have to include ‘funerals’ in this list. Sadly, however, I found out this week that my uncle, Jimmy, had died. I was sorry not to have been at home at this sad time for my aunt Dilly and my cousins Pat and John. (Just as I was at the time of my uncle Frank’s death, when, coincidentally, I was also out of the country.) I know though that they understand my situation and how much I empathise with their loss. It’s at times like this that I feel very far away.
It’s at times like this too that I find myself pondering the difficulty of confronting the implications of death – be it one’s own or that of one’s loved ones. I am once again more acutely aware of how none of us can know, with absolute factual certainty, about the origins of the universe and human existence. I find myself questioning whether I should accept the bleak hopelessness of such knowledge, or whether I should try harder to foster some kind of expectation of ‘salvation’. Hovering between extremes, I find a certain level of comfort in the following verse – from the idea of the possibility of the unknown after death becoming known to us in the same way as did the unknown at birth.
I dedicate the verse (XCV from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore) to my uncle’s memory.
‘I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation’.
May he rest in peace…
[From the ‘Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore’, 9th edition, p. 44, MacMillan, London, 1967 (First Edition 1936.) For more on Tagore see post 29.]