“One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” Joseph Stalin.
I admit: I do terribly with grief. I timeout without even realizing it. I curl into a little ball of emotion and keep to myself, bemoaning the temerity of the day: how can life go on when there has been such grief to stop the Earth from spinning? I may smile. I may put on a brave face. I may comfort you. But in my mind’s eyes, I am sitting amidst the garbage wearing nothing but a tattered gunny bag, rubbing dirt into my hair and refusing to brush my teeth. Mad man style.
I don’t know about you but last week, I immersed myself in the news of the mall attack – I pored over chilling personal accounts. I watched every ‘exclusive video’ and ‘raw footage’ there was. I combed through photo galleries. With my family around the dinner table or with friends over a beer, we analysed and assessed, pondered and postulated, replayed and rebuked the Saturday event.
But by Wednesday, four days after it had gone down, two things happened. First, I realized I had emotionally immersed myself far too deep through the material I was allowing to enter my mind. Early mornings, between prying open my eyelids and getting out of bed, I found myself lying for extended hours in one position, reflecting and (pardon my borrowed media house lingo) struggling to come to terms with the senseless loss of lives following attacks on the affluent mall. I was disturbed. I was shaken. Sweet Jesus, I was terrified.
Second, no news was forthcoming about those who had been left behind after Saturday. There were still so many unanswered questions; too many conspiracies, even more theories. International media houses were saying one thing, our Ole-guy was issuing press statements on yet another – what was going on? So I did this thing I like to do to find closure: I make up my own endings.
I make up my own endings because there exists such truths far too great for our mortal hearts to bear, let alone to understand. Because deep within the heart of man, there resides evil. Evil, when it incubates then floats to the surface, causes man to forget that only He who gives life has the right to take it away.
I want to believe that in such moments of chaotic unrighteousness, a peace and silence unknown engulfs us. I want to believe God, in His grace, separates our physical being from our spiritual being in an ease as surrendered as going to sleep. I want to believe He guides our hand then stands with us as we watch ourselves leave this world. I want to believe that when the final breath escapes from our lips – when the soul and spirit are separated from the mind and body – we are there with Him and He with us. I want to believe there is a cushioned fall when our lifeless bodies hit the ground. I want to believe when the chaos end and when we shut our eyes for the last time, the peace and silence prevail for eternity.
Above all, I want to believe He takes us away before Death does.
And with this self-found closure, I got down on my knees and said my final prayers. I sealed the box of this grief then returned to the normalcy of my routines.
I held on to my made up endings and beliefs until Friday, late morning. When the office girls and I perched around a desk for a loose catch-up. Naturally, the conversation steered toward the painful events of the week. I shared my beliefs then excused myself from the group. It was still too soon to return to the sealed box.
Later on, my colleague Tichi* asked me about these very beliefs, “You said something about those final moments of life?”
I nodded, “Yes. What about it?”
Tichi tells me she has a response to my questions; that my beliefs aren’t as short-sighted or as skewed as I had earlier imagined.
“Oh yes?” I said.
“Oh. Yes,” Tichi said, “Come. Let me show you.”
And we sat there – our seats turned to face each other and our knees touching – she coaxed me to speak with her patient nods and reassuring eye contact. I directed my questions at her with the forceful intent of a tennis ball aimed at a practice wall. And she took each question, contemplated it then took a few moments to reflect before she expressed her views.
Tichi didn’t laugh or seem surprised. She didn’t think my beliefs absurd or wildly imagined. She answered each one as best as she could. I have to be honest though; I had heard all these things before. But what made her responses so complete was that she punctuated each one with quotes and verses from the Scriptures. We leaned in forward – so that our foreheads were now touching – to read from the Bible app of her hTc cell phone: Hebrews to Genesis, Revelation to Daniel, John to James; she took me through each one so that every question I had was addressed in these verses, one way or the other.
I found myself speaking too fast, revealing too much; unearthing deep-seated, private and personal beliefs about the evil of man. Tichi listened. And listened. And listened some more.
I felt cared for. I felt understood. I felt wiser. I felt at peace.
Do you have such friends – religious friends who compliment their monastic yet empirical persona with an enviable mix of wit, urbanity and realism? Friends who untangle your logical quagmires with Scriptural simplicities? Friends who engage your concerns instead of dismissing them with blanket and banal responses like, ‘That’s life.’ Or, ‘What can we do?’ Or, ‘If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.’ Friends who stretch their thoughtful dialogue beyond the horizons of your intellectual landscape? Friends who, when life has dealt us an unanticipated and unacceptable card, take it with an uncommon laxity?
Do you have such friends? I do. And this new one was seated opposite me as I spoke. Its friends I hold close because life is happening. Life is happening. Life is happening; cannon balls which will knock the sense and sensibility out of us are soon coming. You need such friends in your quarters to shake off the dust and move forward.
After our hour long téte-a-téte, she gave me a booklet to peruse in the meantime. (I am doing so as we speak.) We meet again this Friday to… I don’t know… talk some more.
I revisited my earlier theorem and replaced the words ‘I want to believe’, with the word ‘hope’. In the process, my self-made beliefs blossomed to mild declarations of hope. Hope, Tichi had said with real emphasis, is the last thing to die.
“I thought you said it’s Death?”
“Death is the last enemy to conquer. But hope is the last thing in our hearts to die.”
Allow me: I hope that in such moments of chaotic unrighteousness, a peace and silence unknown engulfs us. I hope God, in His grace, separates our physical being from our spiritual being in an ease as surrendered as going to sleep. I hope He guides our hand then stands with us as we watch ourselves leave this world. I hope when the final breath escapes from our lips – when the soul and spirit are separated from the mind and body – we are there with Him and He with us. I hope there is a cushioned fall when our lifeless bodies hit the ground. I hope when the chaos end and when we shut our eyes for the last time, the peace and silence prevail for eternity.
Above all, I hope He takes us away before Death does.
Hope. Hope is the last thing to die.
To the tragedy of the sixty seven plus, I hope you at last found peace and silence.