Having a brother who is a foreign correspondent for a news channel means having to get used to hearing things like ‘I’ll call you in a bit, there’s a rebel checkpoint ahead’ during an ordinary day. He’s in eastern Ukraine now, uncovering details on the horrible fate of Malaysian Airlines MH17. Despite my fears, I am so incredibly proud of him and what he does. Getting a first hand account of what he is witnessing is so much more chilling than having to hear it through the filter of a TV screen. I can only imagine what he goes through seeing all this in person. Death itself (either your own or anyone else’s) is such a difficult topic to discuss without getting uneasy or making people uncomfortable. But to think of death deliberately inflicted by humans on each other is unspeakable.
Thanks to the information age, we are bombarded by news and images of death. Bad news sells. We’ve shrunk the earth and now carry it around in our pockets in the form of smart phones. Violence and crimes relating to geopolitical conflicts, religionism, totalitarianism, sexism, racism, ageism – it seems endless. Despite all of this savagery we seem to be surrounded by, Steven Pinker argues in this TED talk that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Our legacy is thousands of years of bloodied history. And not just because of wars and human brutality, but pandemics like the bubonic plague which wiped out millions of people.
Recently, an acquaintance of mine passed away quite suddenly in the prime of her life. It was the first time in my adult life I had to deal with such devastating news, it left me numb for days. The one constant thing (other than procreation) for all of mankind has been death, but we are still haven’t ‘evolved’ to deal with it. If anything, we have more trouble coming to terms with tragic loss compared to the generations before, because as Pinker states in his talk, we value life more than our ancestors ever did.
One of the reasons I wanted to blog is because I want my kids (and eventually their kids) to know who I was after I’m long gone. I want them to know who I was in my 30s, in my 40s, how my ideas aged, what issues were close to my heart, what drove me, what ignited me, the passions I nurtured. I remember as a kid finding a stash of letters, an odd poem, some incomplete articles, a few hastily written notes all belonging to my grandfather. The paper which had aged gracefully to a beautiful golden brown, was creased so badly it would simply break if opened. It had a rough texture with distinct characteristics of ink pen writing, including random ink blots. Never having met him in person, I devoured those pages, and in the process learnt what kind of man my grandfather was. Those notes opened a tiny window into his life which I would otherwise not have ever known. It fascinated me immensely reading something so personal written decades before my time. People do write differently when the words are not for public consumption. He practised alternate medicine with dogged fanaticism, sadly it was also ultimately responsible for his sudden and untimely death.
Getting off the bleak topic of death, I think my youngest boy has stumbled upon some profound theory to answer existentialist questions. With all the innocence of a two-year old, he seems to think that he will get a chance to be whoever he wants to be when he grows up. He says things like ‘when I turn onto a girl I will wear Dora costume’, ‘when I turn into mom I’ll have a handbag, ‘when I turn into a man, I’ll buy a boat’. I just got thinking how amazing it would be if we could all do this, if we had say, four lives and we could choose to be whoever we want to be in those and actually remember our experiences. I would choose to come back as a man just to figure out why men buy white bread when you specifically ask for brown, or why they have to be reminded about something for six months before it actually gets accomplished. Men could come back as women – walk in heels, wax their bodies and have babies, and finally understand what a high pain threshold really is! Maybe I’d come back as a child once and try to discern why in the kid world drinking from a blue cup, when your favorite is orange, is akin to sacrilege!
The world at large would greatly benefit with this perspective building. I dream of a more tolerant and charitable world, one which I will be proud to pass on to my children..