Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A Good Journey

I'm writing this in an ICU where someone who had been sick for the last month just passed away. She lies there with her hands clasped, quite still, as the warmth of her body gradually escapes her and rigormortis slowly seeps into her bones. Once she was a living, talking, eating human being. Now, she is as lifeless as the bed she's lying on.

Why this dwelling on death, I hear you think. It's morbid, no? I beg to differ. Death is very much a part of life - and increasingly part of my social agenda. In the last couple of weeks I've attended a few funerals of people of varying ages (most didn't even make it to the average national life expectancy age) who died of various, though predictable, illnesses and with varying degrees of pain and suffering.

In these instances one feels sad, particularly for the loved ones left behind. For the departed, it is said that one must not show too much sorrow or shed too many tears as it would be painful for the soul to leave to their next destination with so much emotion holding them back. Instead one must accept their passing with stoic resignation as when it comes to death, it is supposedly in the hands of the Almighty. One does not know when the Grim Reaper will come and cut our mortal coil. When he does, all our plans, our thoughts of tomorrow and the woes of this planet are swept away like sandcastles at high tide.

Having witnessed many passings, including my parents', I no longer feel excessive sorrow in these occasions, but rather a sense of gratitude for the reminder to put things in their true perspectives. Including an increasing realisation that when it comes to our own death, just may be each of us has a lot more active hand in its design than we think. And that if we regularly put our life tape in pause, we would be able to discern a pattern where death is not the end or culmination of life nor the opposite to existence.

Neither is death the mysterious or scary phenomenon that steals in the night catching us unawares, but rather the seeds of death have been planted in each of us when we inhabit our physical bodies and we feed and nourish them throughout the years as we go through our so-called lives. In this way, barring fatal accidents and unpredictable tragedies, it is becoming more and more apparent that how we live our lives play a large part in how we shape our own deaths.

We are after all a driver in a vehicle that has its own intelligence and built in obsolescence
that is quite beyond our control. The best that we could do is ensure its maintenance so that it gives us the best in its performance and provide us with quality driving. A lot of the time however, we think that we are not just the driver but also the vehicle. We drive it the way we want to, often carelessly, at times dangerously, mistaking our immortality for the car's.

Far from taking care of it and cherishing it as a precious thing, we subject this vehicle to all our worries, our roller coaster emotions, our fears, angers, disappointments and traumas as well as all the mental twists and gymnastics that form the journey we call our life. We believe we are the master of the journey and in full control of this vehicle. It is often only at the edge of the abyss that we remember the vehicle has its own journey and we have ours: and our painful parting becomes our moment of rude awakening.

So wouldn't it be nice if we could ensure ourselves of a good death? One that doesn't catch us by surprise when we are far from ready, when our to-do lists are still clutched in our hands and the worries of today are foremost in our minds? One that doesn't force us to review our lives in the final months, weeks, days or even hours before our last breath, when there is little room for introspection, barely any energy to correct our mistakes and no time prepare our own departure.

How much better it would be if we could be ready well in advance with our suitcases packed, our letters written, our messages sent, our debts paid and our farewells duly said. Then we would have no need for others to go over our lives, trying to remember what good deeds we had done and the achievements we had accomplished. We won't have to rely on others to judge whether ours is a life well-spent or time wasted.

Because we have penned our own obituary well in advance, every day each time we look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what is this journey that I'm undertaking, how far have I gone and how am I enjoying it?

So that when the time comes for us to leave we could exit gracefully and proudly like in a well-rehearsed curtain call, bidding a fond farewell of gratitude to that vehicle that had so faithfully supported and sustained us safely during our adventures.

(Desi Anwar: First Published in The Jakarta Globe)

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