“..Death tears away the veil from all our secrets, our shifty dodges and intrigues.” – Dostoevsky, Mr. Prohartchin
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.
Life goes on though it ends for some
This life some love and others hate,
This life some fight for and others willingly surrender.
What is life that you seize every second to live it?
What is life that you just want to escape from it?
Life has meaning only if you give it one,
And believe it and live it.
Find a meaning
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.
A few weeks ago, I read an article by a writer reminiscing about his friendship with the late Seamus Heaney, and of course his famous last words, a text message to his wife — Noli timere (“Don’t be afraid”). Unfortunately I can’t find that article anymore as I don’t remember the title nor the author’s name, so I can’t give you the link.
That article led me to read about Heaney’s last words as recalled by his son in his eulogy. And this in turn led me to remember what my mother said to me a week before she passed as I cried in front of her, exhausted from all the seemingly insurmountable problems that had befallen me — her worsening health condition, my son’s autism, not being able to get a visa for my son, among other things. She reached for my hand, as she lay in bed, and said to me in a voice full of confidence, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. E. is going to be fine.”
I wonder if it is just the dying’s way of comforting the living, so as not to make them worry about what life would be like for the living without them, or if somehow they have some kind of vision of what the future will be like, or if their faith is strengthened as they near that end.
But my mother’s words really comforted me, and I believed her. And I believed her words even more as indeed, after she passed, we were able to find a special needs school for my son, and the same embassy that made it difficult for us to get a visa for him, gave him a travel document instead.
Even now whenever I have a problem, apart from praying, I would think of my mother and how she would have stormed the gates of heaven to pray for me.
As a mother myself, I keep praying for my son. Some nights I lie awake wondering, fearing, what the future would be like for my son. I read articles like this one about a parent describing what life is like for someone with a 13-year old son with ASD , and I fear dying before my son can learn to live independently.
For now I can protect my son and comfort him when he is hurt or scared, but no parent can or should do this for the rest of our lives. Our children grow, and we pass on. But hopefully, our comforting words will live in their hearts and give them courage to live their lives.
BE NOT AFRAID
The sky may darken
And let fall the rain
That doesn’t seem to end
The winds may howl
Like a crazed person
Banging on the window
The lightning may strike
And give you a glimpse
Of the dark clouds outside
The thunder may roar
And cow you into hiding
Under your soft blanket
But don’t be afraid,
Mommy’s here to keep you safe
And warm as you sleep and dream
Of a beautiful sunrise when you wake.
Last month, my son, E. had a two-week vacation in China with us. Before we enrolled him in a school for special needs in the Philippines, he spent most of the first 5 years of his young life in China and probably considers it his real home. This vacation was going to be different from last year’s because this time he would see his nainai (paternal grandmother) again after two years.
My husband had thought E. would not recognize her anymore, yet when I told E. that his nainai had arrived, he rushed to the door and had the sweetest smile on his face when he saw her. He reached out his little arms to her, and when she didn’t pick him up, he held her hand and led her to sit on the couch and kissed her. He kissed her cheeks several times.
There were no words between them, as what little Shandong dialect he picked up from her a few years ago had all been forgotten, and the less than 5 English words she picked up from him had all been forgotten as well. But this did not stop them from communicating in their own unique way. They came up with a clapping game that kept him entertained for the next 6 days.
When the time came to say goodbye, E. did not realize he would not see his nainai the next day or the day after that. As he likes airports, he was just happy to run around in the airport and get on the plane. But hours later, when he got out of the car and realized he was back in his other home (in another country) without his father and his nainai, he became very quiet and in the late afternoon he said to me, crying, “Let’s go.”
So we went out with my sisters and my nephew (who have been his companions for the last two years.) I was hoping he just wanted to get out of the house for a while, but when he realized we were still going back to the same house, he cried. That’s when it dawned on me that he wanted to go back to China. The second night after we arrived, he was still unhappy and cried again, so I finally asked him, “ Do you want to see daddy?” He didn’t say anything. “Do you want to see nainai?” He wailed and said, “Nainai!”
I right away made a video call to my husband and asked him to give the phone to his mom. When E. heard her voice, he grabbed the phone from me and looked at his grandma and cried and kissed the phone. It was the most touching thing I have ever seen my son do. He didn’t give the phone back to me for a long time. He just wanted to watch them.
On the third day, he probably realized that he could not really be with his nainai, and that a video call is not the same as being with her, that he did not want to look at her anymore. I don’t know if he feels betrayed by his grandma; I hope he doesn’t because she loves him just as much as he misses her.
We have been home in the Philippines for almost two weeks now, and he’s back to his happy self. E. is such a sweet 7-year -old boy that I keep telling him I love him just as often as he tells people, no matter family, friend or stranger, “I love you” right after greeting them “Hi” or “Good morning” or “Goodbye.”
I dread the day, less than a couple of weeks from now, when I have to say goodbye to him again. But I know he has his way of coping — we’ve been through this before and it’s usually I who take a week to recover.
For an autistic 7-year old who is minimally verbal, E. knows how to communicate his love for the people who love him and has an amazing strength to bear the pain of missing them. I am learning so much from my son.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
I saw this tree trunk from a distance and thought it looked interesting. You might say there’s nothing interesting about this trunk, that it’s even ugly. And you might be right.
I wish I had taken a photo of the whole tree — its leaves were quite green. This tree survived a super typhoon in 2016. The tree itself looked ordinary, but it’s the trunk that captured my attention. This weathered trunk to me stands for strength — something that I feel I have and should not lose in these very busy and stressful time in my life.
What do you see when you look at this trunk?