Saturday, April 2, 2011

Death on Spring Day

This day in April was radiant, the essence of spring, with a cloudless blue sky and cool breezes, birdsong, and flowering trees. I felt unusually alive, especially after last night's performance--an evening of historical humor co-presented to 100 people whose laughter was itself enlivening.

Then came death, as it ineviably does: sudden news of Melinda's passing, a victim of MS. I had been meaning to visit or call and now it's too late. The familiar guilt. We were not close, yet after 40 years of intermittent association, some bonds are established.

It could have been me, but it wasn't. Death happens to other people, doesn't it? Anyone who has read Tolstoi's masterpiece, "The Death of Ivan Ilych," remembers that idea from the opening, then the long and painful process of sharing in the death of an ordinary man, who only at the end of his life sees the meaning of it all. He begins to say to himself, "I want to live!"

It's almost laughable, yet his insight--and ours as we share in the awakening of his soul--is redemptive. It's all about seeing that loving and being loved are all that matter, not property and polite manners and success.

The catharsis here is powerful, more than is possible with the deaths of those around us, who pass away in hospitals or hospices, their condition not known except to those around them, if at all. We turn to fiction to learn the truth about dying. Tolstoi is the master.

To confront death on a spring day is to say, as another woman in the community--also of my age--said in a message to me today: "Grief is real. But so is laughter. And shining moments of clarity and brilliance." She referred to the poem she had written following the death of her husband a few months ago, and I admired her hopeful courage so well expressed.

We must live fully. Who knows when death will come or what awaits me on the other side? As St. John of the Cross wrote 500 years ago, "I only know that a great love awaits me."

I hope I have his strong faith--as well as the courage of my poet-friend. I hope that Melinda was appreciated during her life for all her shining moments of clarity and brilliance. And that she is now totally free.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

During my first trip to Japan, in 1980, I read James Clavell’s Shogun. I was glad I brought it along, not only because it taught me quite a bit about Japanese history and culture during their feudal period of shoguns and samuri, but also because our Japanese hosts (I was part of a manufacturing seminar hosted by our licensee Mistubishi Heavy Industries – MHI) invariably indicated the evening was over around the time we Americans thought it was just getting started. So the book gave me something to do in the evenings.

My memory is dim about the specifics, but near the end of the book, the female lead, whose name I think was something like Marika-san, needed to commit seppuku to maintain her honor. This act is also known as hari-kari. The female form of this ritualistic suicide is to plunge a short dagger into one’s neck and maybe twist it or pull it up sharply, or something like that. It was up to the person to decide when and where to do it.

One can only imagine the torturous thought process that might precede such an act. As best I recall the scene, it was a gorgeous day, spring-like, a day much like Sunday was here in Orlando, a day on which one is happy to be alive. She chose that day, walked into the center of a public place, and after some time of consideration, committed the act.

What strikes me about that scene is that it took place on a beautiful day. She could have decided that because the weather was so gorgeous she’d defer until the next day. But she didn’t. As she took her life by this gruesome process, I imagined leaves rustling in a light breeze, birds singing, and the aroma of cherry blossoms wafting past her.

She kept her “honor” by choosing death on a spring day. What a horrible code of honor, and such a contrast to the death of your friend.