I don’t remember how I felt at my grand father’s funeral. I remember the day well enough, it’s just that I do not remember how I felt… Perhaps I did not feel much that day, other than a numbness - an empty lack of feeling. Maybe I loved him without needing him, and so I just felt empty. It wasn’t a feeling I understood much even a year later when my grand mother followed him to the other side. I know now that they loved me more than I loved them and had I been older, maybe I would’ve learnt to love them better.
I was 18. it was a wonderful time. I had hopes, I had dreams and I had friendship. A friendship that made me complete in a way nothing else could. At a time when I should’ve had pimples, insecurities and complexes, this friendship protected me, cocooned me and nourished me without complaint or restraint. I fed off it and grew, without realising for a minute how much I had taken this person, this relationship for granted. We were inseparable. But now I know we were so because he held me tight, so firm that I couldn’t stray, but gentle enough not to smother me. I loved him more than I knew. Never told him so, but when I look back, I know he knew…. At 19, he was a year older than me. I still remember him standing, one leg across the other, in front of the gate waiting for me, playing his harmonica as he waited. I kept him waiting, because I knew, that no matter how long I took, he would be waiting…But one day he kept me waiting. I didn’t have his patience, so when I thought I heard him at the gate, I rushed out in anger. But it wasn’t him… after that day, it wasn’t ever him.
I would still hear the harmonica at times, but he was gone, seemingly for ever. His passing changed me. I was still a boy, but he had taken my boyhood with him. It was something we shared which we couldn’t have shared with anybody else but I don’t regret it. He took with him what was ‘ours’ and left me in return what was his. I learnt to love for the sake of love and not because I was loved back in return, just like he used to. And he taught me a word that I never thought I’d understand – empathy.
That was long ago though, and sometimes these days, when I can’t see beyond a story or a scoop, his spirit tires of me and leaves me and I regress into a lesser man –like the kinds who are staring so hard at tomorrow that they don’t even notice as today drifts by; until every tomorrow has become yesterday, a lifetime lost without a ‘today’.
Funerals have a way of putting our lives in perspective - like an epiphany that for a fleeting moment, or longer, cuts through the charade of our lives and gives us a glimpse of what it ought to be - what we ought to be. A lit pyre, a handful of dirt on a coffin, they remind us of our own mortality and how we take our own lives and health for granted. They make us more human, more compassionate. They make us want to reach out, to comfort each other. But above all, they remind us that targets, deadlines, promotions and incentives aren’t half as important as the love and faith of the relationships that keep us rooted. We see them every day, and yet we push them back into recesses of our minds and lives. Like leaving parents, who’re hoping to catch up with a busy child, waiting up at dinner every night, because there are friends to meet, presentations to finish, a movie to catch. But then there’s always tomorrow. They’ve always been there, they’ll always be there, you tell yourself, until you’ve waited one tomorrow too long.
So let it not take obsequies to remind us not to wait for tomorrows. Let’s celebrate the most important relationships in our lives every day, every ‘today’. And let us not ever have to stand at a funeral, hearts heavy with guilt, wishing we had one more day.
Pitchin’ for Mitch
Iwrote the words on your left after spending time with a dear friend who had lost a parent. He is a son who had not waited for ‘tomorrow’ and it showed in the way he dealt with his grief. A few days later, I thought of picking up a book for him - a book by a man who understands loss, and so I picked up Mitch Albom’s ‘For One More Day’. Serendipity?! Who knows...
After I read the book, I wondered whether Mitch Albom’s critics were right. They said he was hawking syrupy sentimentality. I liked the sentimentality though. And honestly, I think the guy had a point. I don’t think you and I are alone in taking those we love for granted. Albom’s books can move a man and point him in the right direction and heal and soothe a grieving soul. There aren’t many books one can say that about and for this I wouldn’t grudge him his ‘syrupy prose’ or his profits. It is surprising that a man who made a name for himself as a decorated sports columnist with Detroit Free Press and Playgirl should come up with such delightful little books that satiate the spirit.
Irrespective of his motives, his books have touched chords and changed lives. Should a writer, his readers or his critics ask for more.