Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Life and Death

Today I remember my brother who died in 2002 at the age of 42. He had been ill for some time so one would assume his death did not come as a shock but it did. We had grown accustomed to his illness, he had a brain stem tumour. My sister-in-law nursed him at home and his estimated life expectancy had been a few months yet he just kept going. He was bedridden but could recognise us and every now and then would surprise us all with bursts of conversation before silence resumed. Every now and then we were treated to glimpses of his wit and charm. I remember one particularly poignant conversation I had with him. He told me he had been out in the fields with Joe (his father-in-law who had passed away many years previously) and  a few of his other mates. A quizzical look came across his face as he said to me, "But, Cee, Joe wouldn't open the gate, why wouldn't he open the gate, why wouldn't he let me go with him? I wanted to go with him." I imagined a sun kissed field and a big farm yard type of gate, I could practically see Joe with his black shiny hair shaking his head at my brother before shutting the gate and leaving him on the other side.

Joe must have returned and opened the gate.

My brother left behind his wife and four children and a grandson.
The children were devastated, They won't mind being called children even though three of them were teenagers, the other even younger. It was a truly terrible time.

Years march relentlessly on and my brother would now be the proud grand-dad of 12 lovely little (and not so little) people. His children have done well.
But the lilting sadness is still there and probably always will be.
The following passage from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is for them.

...Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would now ask of Death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day
cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river 
and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hope and desires lies your
silent knowledge of the beyond:
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your
heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate
to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd
when he stands before the king whose hand
is to be laid on him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling,
that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind
and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the
breath from its restless tides, that it may rise
and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence
shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then
shall you truly dance.

Kahlil Gibran. The Prophet.
Heinemann: London