Is it time to begin writing about you yet?
Will it ever be time to begin writing about you?
I feel like I can only think about you in fragments. You’re still a raw wound. It is painful to dwell too long on the contours of your face, the sound of your voice, on your laughter and ease. I think about you in snatches, as the light flits across metro floors in Delhi. Mostly, though, it is underground and darkness. A strangely easy forgetting that I have seen death from uncomfortably close. A general sort of numbness.
It is hard to understand death. In the wake of death, it is hard to understand life.
It is a series of interconnected crises culminating in my head. There is a profound and painful sense that nothing matters. I have seen death. Death exists. Death will come, slowly or swiftly, to us all, no matter what we dream or fight or attempt to achieve in our absurd lifetimes. That knowledge has shifted insidiously from an intellectual fact to a deep awareness. It is a dangerous thing to have a deep awareness of. I hope I am able to forget it soon.
Along with the despair comes something unexpected; all of a sudden, it seems, I am not able to make as much sense of the world as I could two months ago. Death is terrifying not only because of it’s inevitability, but also because of it’s deep incomprehensibility. What does it mean for someone to die? I have never been religious. My beliefs and my intellectually reasoned stances have always magically corresponded. I never needed God, and I never needed a heaven or a hell or a soul that would remain behind when the corporeal body passed into gentle ruin. When I walked into that room and saw - there is really no other word for it - your corpse, there were no misconceptions. I did not expect anything but a void in the place that you left behind. There is a clear darkness. An empty chair. I saw your body burnt on a pyre. Nothing remains. What does that mean?
All of a sudden, there is discontinuity in my understanding of the world. I am not able to wrap my head across something as vast and ordinary as this. You are dead. You are no more. You do not exist. It is as though you were never there. Is it?
All of a sudden, my ideas of what it means to “be there” or “be here” are complicated and shaken. What does it mean at all to live, to grow, to feel pain and love and joy, to sing, to bathe, to sleep, if at the end of everything there is only gentle ruin and an unapologetic void? I did not sign up for this. I don’t think anybody did. Fear before death is a fear born out of ignorance. Fear after death (of course, not your own), seems to be a much more intelligent, insidious thing. That is, if you really let yourself feel it. If you really let yourself think some of these ideas through. It is so much easier to lock it up in a corner of your mind and continue living, for goodness sake, continue breathing and eating and walking and reading and pretending as though you have an eternity in which to do these mindless things.
I am sorry I am writing so much about myself, and the ruins you have left behind in my mind. I am apologising to the reader, whoever she or he may be, especially if she is a later version of myself who will read this and be ashamed, dissatisfied. I am not apologising to you who I am writing to, really, because you are an abstract idea in my head, a memory, a feeling, a breath of wind that smells of cold cream and perfume. You are not a reality anymore, simply a passive idea, mine to understand or misunderstand as I will. “All reality is iconoclastic”, writes C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed. “The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to, you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead”. But Mr. Lewis, that is the hardest thing, is it not? To love the unexpected and independent reality of the Other, even when they are alive. When somebody passes away, it is the easiest thing to hang up a stagnant image of her in our scheming minds, and tell ourselves that this, this particular arrangement of light and shadow on her jaw, this orange scarf, this background of leaves and this vacant smile, this was all she was. This is what I must love now.
I did this too when you were alive, B-ma. Every time I left home, I carried images of you all in my bag, in my mind. I stuck them on my wall. My favourite is one with Savera cutting her birthday cake, with mom and dad and both sets of grandparents. The light is warm and lovely, and the faces leak happiness. I still have this on my board. It is a painful stab to realise that this is the last of its kind. My family has been pruned a little at the edges. It will never be complete again. Even when it was, I carried this image of you all - healthy, happy, together - wherever I went, and pretended that just because I wasn’t home, nothing would change. For the most part, nothing did. For months we would not talk. It is awkward on the phone. I am unused to it. I am more used to your presence, your voice that travels up the stairs and leaves me smiling. That’s the thing, isn’t it? The difference, the real concrete difference between life and death. When you were alive, you would knock me back straight whenever I came home. You existed, independent of me, in all your glory and unexpectedness and vibrance. You existed whether or not I thought of you, called you, or came downstairs for dinner. Death is stagnation, in essence. Nothing will ever change now. You will never find a new friend, or a new hobby, or a new restaurant. You are an idea that exists as long as we, the leftovers, are persistent about it. When we get tired of feeling grief, you will slip away like a leaf in the wind. It will be the hardest thing to remember your resistances, your faults, your foursquare and independent reality. We will only have pictures, faded with sun and time.