The last month hasn’t been one fraught with good news. Come to think of it, the news these days seldom is – but a lot of it is sensationalist stuff, so doesn’t really get you emotionally worked up most of the time.
Truth be told, statistics don’t reveal any significant peaks in the number of tragedies in the month past. The numbers were much the same – and infact India has just had a polio-free year – so the numbers should be marginally better. Bad news however always affects you by the quality of the event and never the quantity – so the death of a loved one can affect you more than the 300 deaths due to a large scale aircraft crash. It’s not that we are insensitive to the latter, it’s just that we are a lot more sensitive to the former. And the past month saw tragedy played at several “personal” levels (tragedies to a near one and dear one, at the local neighborhood and the death of a star we looked up to), so perhaps the musing is a little more.
I recall our scriptures proclaiming that at our very root, we are most concerned about ourselves (essentially things that have to so something with “me” or things that are “mine”). The self takes on multiple identities – we identify ourselves with our body, our society, our nations, our tribes and our beliefs. This is why when any of these are hurt, we get hurt – we perceive it as an affront to our personal self (extended self maybe, but self neverthless). Eckart Tolle explains this at great length in the his new best seller (The New Earth) – and this is a great framework for seeing what hurts you and why.
Now, a look at the tragedies. The first was the news of death of an infant child of a dear one (actually another friend had also gone through a similar tragedy a couple of years earlier). A couple who are good and true had just had a loss they couldn’t account for. If you believed in a benevolent god, would he give you something precious only to request the favor back so early? And yet, if the event wasn’t attributed to a cosmic someone or something, where could we find solace and an entity to drown our sorrows in? The law of karma would state that it was the infant’s choice, that it was a very advanced “soul” in a little body and therefore had very little karma to work out and hence moved on -and with a lot of gratitude toward its family at that….. even if this true and a satisfying evolutionary explanation, would the parents not feel piqued that the God of justice had triumphed over one of compassion? Ramana Maharishi or some such elevated souls may have reacted differently to such events, for most of us it’s a hard cross to bear.
Closer to home (geographical proximity meaning an “extended physical self”?), we had a gang who specialized in bank heists shot dead. It was far enough (at least a couple of miles) for us to not have heard the so called “encounter” shooting, however the sheer thought that just a few miles away there had played out a strange drama of a heist and a few deaths, leaves a knot in the stomach and an uneasiness in the air. Such tragedy inspires fear and implicit acknowledgement that our neighborhoods are not so safe any more.
The third tragedy was the premature death of a singer – one I had never met – but whose songs have enthralled me for a long, long time. Whitney Houston succumbed to the usual “celebrity” story – excessive substance and alcohol abuse and a very turbulent life. With her death (and Michael Jackson’s in the not too distant past), a small chapter from my childhood somehow to have lost its reality – a cherished scene of the family talking away listening to these legends crooning their hits on radio and tv (specially during the grammy’s) has faded away…
So what next – for my friend and his family, I can and will provide a shoulder to lean on. And I have memories of togetherness that can be cherished. In the second case, there is no real “personal” loss – except that we will bolt the doors a little earlier (!) and advise kids against the twilight talks most of us used to enjoy on the very same streets. And Whitney’s and Michael’s records survive them (actually the only way I knew these legends in the first place) to entertain us.
The sadness therefore is not just from the loss itself, but in the understanding that there is a bit of us that has evaporated with these tragic incidents. We grieve for the part of us that shared a special moment with the person, place or event who suffered the loss – and is now lost as well. It is also an object lesson for us that life does not stand still – she “flows” and does not stop for anyone or anyplace. Let’s take a moment to stop, take a breath and whisper our gratitude to all the great souls who have come our way and appreciate all the events and places we are and have been fortunate to experience. This will make a difference – not perhaps to reality and it’s tragedies – but to our reaction to them and the memories that we are left with when a treasured phase passes us by. To know life is fleeting makes us all more present and caring. Prayers.