With 15th August just past, it was natural for me to remember something tragic that happened around this time 12 years ago. Also, we’ve been getting so much news of ex-colleagues passing away suddenly, and with the pandemic it’s but natural to think of death. And to wonder what I’d do when death comes.
When Death Comes
2 Army Majors, soldier killed in helicopter crash – Newspaper Headlines – August 16, 2008
I clearly remember reading this headline. It may have been just another headline to me, if my parents hadn’t called to tell me that one of those young Army Majors, was the son of a couple we knew. I didn’t know him personally, but I knew and respected his parents. His parents are friendly with my parents. He was in the same batch as my cousin in the Indian Military Academy (IMA). His wife was another cousin’s classmate. His brother-in-law was my student. So many connections between my family and this young officer.
I couldn’t begin to imagine the grief of his wife and parents and all those who knew and loved him . And even those of us who didn’t know them directly, paused that day to ask ‘Why?’
There were a myriad ‘whys’ running around our minds – Why this tragedy? Why were they taken away so young? Why did they have to die while they were on a rescue mission? Why is life so unfair? And then maybe some, like me, asked, “Why them, and not me?” I got no answer to that question. The only response I got, was a series of questions:
- Are you living your life meaningfully?
- How are you making every day count?
- Are you getting lost in the small details, and forgetting the ‘big picture’?
- What kind of legacy are you going to leave?
- Do the people I love know that I love them?
Today, these questions are still relevant to me. I’m still trying to answer them meaningfully. I’m leaning on a beautiful poem by one of my favourites poets, Mary Oliver.
When Death Comes
When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence, and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth. When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world. --Mary Oliver
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