Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Circle of Life: Birth and Death in 7 Days

By my standards, I had a quite the interesting week.  I had to stand witness to both a death and a birth from friends of mine.  Maybe this isn't the most novel of experiences or the most original story you will read, but it was a profound 7 days that I added to the 20.5 years I have had the privilege of experiencing here on mother Earth. 

Last week my friends had the honour of adding to the 7 billion humans on Earth by bringing a new baby girl into this world.  They are both still in college, so you could say that this little bundle of joy came early in their relatively unseasoned lives.  I went over to their apartment on Wednesday night to see the latest addition to life on Earth.  I should tell you that I am the youngest of 2 children, a whole 3.5 years younger than my elder sister.  As far as cousins go, they are all at least 10 years older than me and I have two cousins who are younger than myself.  Therefore, experience with dealing and handling an infant: zero.  I might have seen infants from a distance before, but never as close as on Wednesday. 
I entered the apartment as I had done in times past.  Very familiar; a few decorative changes, but I have had pleasurable times here before.  I walked further into the apartment, walked into their bedroom and the sight of a tiny, pink, helpless being on their bed turned out to be the most striking moment of the life.  No longer was this a college couple's pad where all things associated with youth and young man- and womanhood happened.  It was now the home of to the most recent human.  The apartment immediately had a totally different feeling about it.  Now there are definite responsibilities and dependency.  No more freedom to go on an impulsive roadtrip, no more liberty to leave home without worry or concern for those left being.  An infant is an anchoring force.  Maybe this ship wants to drift to the great horizon, but baby anchor keeps it right at the dock or wherever the anchor decided to drop.
It's very easy for me, as someone who has been unbound in terms of relationships his entire life, to go on and create naval metaphors of how a baby holds one captive to your current way of life, lest a gargantuan effort is made to change that.  Children can challenge and change you like no other force in your life ever got close to doing.  For my father, he doesn't know what there is to live for were it not for my sister and me.  In spite of seeing this helpless bundle of screams lying on that bed that night, I know that I still want to have part in creating and raising a life.  Sleepless nights, vomit-stained shirts, diaper changing, fatigue, discomfort for decades all lie ahead, I imagine.  I imagine that there could be no feeling quite like your child running to you at the end of the day in excitement because he/she is reunited with daddy.  There must be nothing quite like the feeling of the whole family squeezed onto one couch on a Sunday night watching a movie.  There couldn't be a more binding force than kissing them good night and reveling in the wonders you and your spouse created. 
That makes it worth all the bad things, for me.  That said, Wednesday night's trip also confirmed my suspicion that I am not ready to create and raise a life.  I still have much to grow, many places to see, many thoughts to think, many hands to shake and obviously find someone who is willing to do this thing with me, before I will add to our overpopulated Earth and open a new chapter in the Human Story.

If Wednesday was the birth, then Saturday was the death. 
At noon on Saturday I got a frantic Whatsapp from my coach who urgently required me to phone him.  As someone who has a slight fear of speaking to people over the telephone, I did not have money on my cellphone to make the call. 
"What's going on?" I asked.
His brother just died.
I am not sure I have ever read a more chilling line of text in my life before.  My friend's eldest brother had died a short while prior to the text due to cardiac arrest on a walk in town.  On the one hand, the shock was for my friend's part, as he had lost his big brother who took on the role of father figure when their father passed away when my friend was six, and also because for the first time in my life I had to be the bearer of fatal news. 
My hands instinctively went to my gaping mouth and I asked God how, why?  After corresponding about some other pragmatics, I jumped off my bed and got dressed (I was leisurely scrolling through Facebook and wondering how I was to spend this Saturday, in underpants) and rushed to other friends and teammates' dorms to get a cellphone which had money on it.  My friend's middle brother was to be the bearer of bad news, luckily not me, but I would be the very first person my friend would see after the traumatic news.  I got a cellphone and was relieved to find him awake in his room (I did not want wake him up with news of a dead  brother, because that would be absolutely horrible).  I told him that his middle brother urgently wanted to speak to him and we needed to find out his number.  In the end, we didn't need his number because, but this period of searching provided a well-needed buffer for me and my coach to extract my friend's passport details (the university bought him a ticket to go back home for the funeral).  After getting the details and telling him that his middle brother would be calling, instead of us calling him, an extremely tense 3 or so minutes elapsed.  I sat on a ledge in our shared bathroom staring at the cellphone, waiting.  My friend was pacing around in his room and stopped to stare out his room window. 
The phone rang.  It was his brother.  I answered to a very teared-up voice and handed the cellphone over to my friend.  I closed the bathroom door and walked to my room.  Our rooms are connected via a shared bathroom.  I took a seat on the floor and played ear-witness to the agony of the death of a loved one.  Pure, unadulterated emotion came through that closed, wooden door.  I was despondently staring at the door awaiting its opening.
What will I say?  I have never lost a sibling, a parent or a child, I have no idea how this must feel and this is his second round of familial pain.
The door opened and I rose to my feet.  He abruptly handed the cellphone over to me and told me that his middle bro wanted to speak to me and the door closed again.
The teary-voice of earlier remained and I tried to remain strong and said "His death was unfair."
The moment of inspiration seemed to hit the spot.
I finished talking on the phone and went to my friend in his room.
I have never seen him as morose as he was on that spinchair of his on that day.
"His death was unfair."  I kept to my strategy of blaming the external powers for the death.
My friend felt the same way.  I embraced him like I have never embraced another man before. 
Never underestimate the power of human touch when grieving.  Should science ever be able to replicate the wonder and beauty of human touch completely, swing low sweet chariot and carry me Home.
The rest of the day and night I simply tried to be his friend and distract him from the pain in healthy ways, whilst still bringing the conversation to his brother every now and then to not become detached from reality. The outpour from his friends and our teammates was fantastic and made the process so much easier and joyous.  In fact, we had so much fun on Saturday night that for fleeting moments I completely forgot about the events that transpired only hours earlier.  I managed to stay very strong and few would be able to say he lost his big brother only hours before.

Such is life.  We are born, we eat, we poop, we mate, we die.  The cycle perpetuates itself with new faces and names to replace the former and has been doing so since the dawn of time.  Maybe we erect monuments and statues, write poems and compose music to honour the dead and gone.  The undeniable fact remains that no human holds power to return from the gates of hell.  Those who do, we honour as God.  These 7 days once again highlighted to me how transient and futile our existences are on the Great Green Menagerie.  The springflower blooms, shines its beauty for all the world to see, only to be consumed by a  wildfire the next day.  Maybe the one day of shine that flower cast upon the faces and hearts of men and women who passed by its temporary glory, made its abrupt life absolutely worth it. 
We are here today and gone tomorrow, but who ever said that was a bad thing?  If the one-day flower can shine its beauty into all of eternity with its petty existence, how much more can we not bring beauty to our Blue Planet with our megalithic lifespans? 
More than you may think.

May your light shine into all eternity, my friends

In memory of Jean Frechou (1982-2014)
In honour of Elizabeth Anderson (2014- )