“Howards End” and the idea of death

“Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him.” — E.M. Forster, Howards End

I read Howards End last week, and I made several notes on it on my Kindle, but for now I want to write about this line spoken by Helen Schlegel as she was talking with Leonard.

Death does destroy a human being, literally — our bodies decay with death. But the idea of death is what drives most of us to live our lives the best we can. Knowing that there is an end or becoming aware that the end is near, people tend to try to become their better selves — asking forgiveness, fixing broken relationships, showing kindness, completing tasks, etc.

Though I am afraid of a painful death, death itself, to me, is not something to be feared, but something that is merely necessary. It can be a hassle when you have responsibilities that you cannot simply entrust to somebody else, but you know it is a fact of life.

In the novel, Helen says: “I love Death — not morbidly, but because He explains.” And she goes on to explain how with Death, one can see the emptiness of Money.

Death does explain this and much more to us, but the idea of death leads us to ask the questions that really matter:

Why am I here if I’m only going to die? How can I make good use of my borrowed time in this life?

There’s not much use asking where you’re going after you die. It’s enough to answer the two questions above and live your life with purpose and passion.

May you find purpose for and passion in living your life. 🙏🏽

T.

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On Chekhov’s The Death of a Clerk: When Something Means Nothing

Hardly anyone can stop oneself from sneezing, so when a clerk, Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov sneezed in the middle of an opera, he accidentally sprayed the man in front of him, a general who served in the Department of Transportation. (I know some people don’t think of covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, so I’m guessing this main character is of that kind.) He apologized to the general who simply dismissed it as nothing of importance, but our hero was convinced that the general did not believe it was unintentional and thought of him (Cherviakov) as being rude. Hence, he tried to apologize again, even going to his office days after the incident. In the end the general got extremely annoyed with the clerk Cherviakov and yelled at him to get out of his office.

The clerk deeply affected by this treatment, went home and died.

Sometimes we tend to attach meaning to actions of people who may not have meant for those actions to mean anything. Simply put, we misunderstand/misread/misconstrue people’s actions.

Such is what happened with Cherviakov. He was convinced that he made a bad impression on the general and wanted to rectify it even after the general had said, “Never mind, never mind” and later, “I’ve already forgotten it, and you keep at it.” He could not accept the fact that the general was dismissive of something he thought was important. He misread the general’s annoyance with his (Cherviakov’s) pestering him for the latter’s refusal to accept his sincere apology.

This is all too common. I know I was guilty of this in my past relationship when I was young and very immature: I insisted on being offended over something so inconsequential just because I wanted attention.

Some people simply lack the capacity to ignore paltry matters. Everything has meaning even when there’s none.

It is not uncommon to hear from someone you know about how offended they felt about something that somebody had said to them, or the look that was thrown at them by somebody, although you may personally think that it was not intended to mean anything.

Especially on social media today — a friend may post something like a meme, and another will think it is directed at him.

These days people get offended so easily. When have we become so weak? Why can’t we be like the general and simply let go of minor nuisances? Why do we have to be like the clerk who kept harping on something that the general dismissed as nothing of importance and for which Cherviakov later died?

The only one we are hurting by being too concerned about trivial matters such as what the clerk experienced, is ourselves because realizing that nobody else cares about what we deem important will just hurt us even more.

Let’s not allow trivialities to annoy us to death. 😉

Happy weekend! 💕

T.

On Friendships, Secrets and Hemingway

“THERE’S no such thing as autobiography.  There’s only art and lies.” 
— Jeanette Winterson.

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Friends are people with whom you share some of your deepest secrets, with the hope and faith that they would carry these secrets with them to the grave. But as it is, some friends are simply incapable of keeping secrets. If your friend is married, know for sure that your friend’s spouse will know your secret. In today’s world, especially among young people there doesn’t seem to be any secrets at all. The idea of “secret” seems to be dying. Everything is posted on social media for the world to know.

Still, how would you feel if you actually had an extremely embarrassing secret and told your best friend about it, and the next day when you woke up, you checked your Twitter only to find out you have become famous after your friend had posted your embarrassing secret on Twitter for everyone on Twitterverse to enjoy making memes about?

Since last year I had been re-reading Hemingway, but this year was the first time I read “A Moveable Feast.” I enjoyed reading it until I reached the part where he wrote about Fitzgerald. And I was just disappointed.

When I started reading it, I did not think of it as a memoir and simply enjoyed his description of his life in Paris — his struggles, the people he met and spoke with and his impressions of them. I did not even mind so much the things he wrote about Gertrude Stein as I did not feel there was real friendship between them.

But with Fitzgerald it was different. Here was someone who trusted him, and told him something very personal, obviously in confidence, and he wrote about it for all the world to read and know about a very private thing about someone he considered his friend.

I guess writers, artists have been doing this for ages — writing about someone in their life including what has been told them in confidence — and not thinking about how their revelation will impact the life not only of the one they are writing about, but also of those related to the person, their spouse, children, great-grandchildren.

If Hemingway had made an effort to protect his friend, he would not have been so explicit in sharing Fitzgerald’s problem to the world. He was quite careful in not saying so much about his then-wife and child, which shows that he could have refrained from revealing too much about Fitzgerald. As it is, the part on Fitzgerald just came out gossipy and not a gentlemanly thing to say at all.

Maybe it’s just me, but reading “A Moveable Feast” changed my mind about Hemingway, especially that he said this about Dostoevsky, my favorite author, “How can a man write so badly, so unbelievably badly and make you feel so deeply?” This book made me “feel so deeply” but not in a good way.

“Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

Three years ago this month, I lost my mother. And every year this month, I buy flowers (pictured below) that I put next to her photograph. Every year in March, as I look at both flowers and my mom’s photograph, I am reminded of the uncertainty of life, of its ephemerality and the sadness that comes with being left behind by those who go before us.

This month my musing on the transiency of life is made even sadder by the thought of 2 of my best friends facing serious illnesses. My 3 best friends, unlike me who wanted to die at 20, have always wanted to live long, happy, healthy lives.

For the lovers of life, I hope you never lose that WILL to live even when doctors give you that diagnosis that sounds like a death sentence. I hope in your heart will burn that desire to prove the doctors wrong and that you “RAGE against the dying of the light.” ♥️

T.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

South Korea blues

After 14 years, she finally saw him again. He was waiting for her at the airport. They saw each other at the same time. They hugged and laughed, incredulous at seeing each other again after that quick goodbye at an airport in China like a lifetime ago.

For the next three days, they went out to a number of places, different cities, exploring like they were racing against time.

But the truth is, they really were — they are — racing against time.

And as they drove past Surisan Mountain on her last day in the country, she thought to herself, “Goodbye, Surisan,” because she knew her voice would break if she said it out loud. But then she heard his voice as he said, “Goodbye, mountain,” like he knew exactly what she was thinking (perhaps he did.) And that was all it took to make the tears fall, and she looked away, trying not to let him see as she wiped the tears away.

They had said goodbye so many times before.

But this was different.

T. 💞

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A few minutes before landing in Incheon

Banwol Lake, Gunpo

DMZ, Imjingak

Sanbon Catholic Church, Gunpo

Blue and white and green — photos taken in Chomakgol Ecopark

View of Surisan from Chomakgol Ecopark

Main Gate of Seoul National University

Incheon Bridge on a cloudy day

The Indignity of Old Age and Dying

“..Death tears away the veil from all our secrets, our shifty dodges and intrigues.” – Dostoevsky, Mr. Prohartchin

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Taiwushan Cemetery, Kinmen, Taiwan

Death can’t reveal all of our secrets, because some of them we carry to our graves. But death can literally reveal what we keep hidden underneath our clothes; when we die (if our bodies are intact) then our bodies become mere objects seen quite objectively by doctors, nurses and embalmers, all strangers to our bodies. But of course one can rationalize this and say, “Who cares? The dead don’t.”

Perhaps people will say I overthink things when I say this, but I feel nothing but compassion for sick people in hospitals and how their bodies become merely like an object that the healthy can just point to or talk about as if it is lifeless. I felt this the first time I saw my mother being given a sponge bath by my sister. I felt this as I stood next to my mother’s bed as she lay there in pain, while the nurses were changing her clothes. I witnessed the indignity of aging, and it made me feel so so sorry for us, human beings.

Hopefully one day we won’t have to deal with incontinence, hip fractures, loss of mobility, etc. and just go quietly with dignity intact.

Meaning and Purpose in Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”

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In general, there are two kinds of people according to how they view their life: those who continually search for meaning and purpose in life, and those who don’t. These two kinds of people come to the same end, however. They die. We die. But that time just before death is where the dying differ. Those who believe (even without any real proof) that they have found meaning and fulfilled their purpose in life, pass confidently though sadly, and those who feel they have unfulfilled promises or dreams or tasks left undone, leave bitterly.

In my lifetime, I have seen enough number of dying people to see this. It is always sad as I know it is the fate of each and every one of us.

Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” reminds me of that sadness I feel when pondering on the fate of human beings. At first I found this novel disturbing and then extremely sad; and only today, two days after I finished reading the novel, did I finally realize what I found so sad about it.

It is not that the “students” unquestioningly accept their fate of dying young because they are mere clones, created to become organ donors.
It is not that despite their being more humane than the humans who created and raised them, the latter are repulsed by them.

Rather it is that human beings despite their being “superior” to the clones, are ignorant of the real meaning and purpose of their existence, while the clones aren’t. Hence, the former can face death which they aptly call “completing” without fear or regret, albeit with a little sadness. Ishiguro found the perfect word to call death in this novel. When the clones die from having donated their organs, it is because they have accomplished or “completed” the purpose of their existence.

There are people who are convinced that they know their purpose for being in this world – they have faith or they make up their own purpose, but is it really the real purpose for our existence? How will we know for sure?

This is why I envy the clones in the novel, at least there is no doubt in their heads why they exist. For somebody outside looking in, it is a very sad existence, but the “students” in Hailsham had a happy childhood, lots of fun memories, and there was no question in their head as to what was going to happen to them, how their lives would end. As for us, humans, though we know our time is limited, and we attach all kinds of meaning or purpose for our lives, in the end we are all Jon Snow.

We know nothing.