Warning! Super long post! The Squirrel is in a philosophical mood.
Last weekend was Easter and thoughts of all Christians (including me) was focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, two other deaths occurred over that weekend that made me ponder the whole issue of life and death. Or more specifically, how our view of life affects our view of death and vice versa.
At my church’s Good Friday service, one of the thoughts that we meditated on was the fact that Jesus told his disciples that when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, he would be arrested and he would be killed but in spite of that, he went anyway. A death wish? Christians sometimes say that Jesus was born to die.
All of us die, eventually. If we are born then we will die. But of Jesus it is believed that his whole life led to one purpose and that was to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. (of course, on Easter, we celebrate his rising from the dead, victorious over death itself). But my point was that Jesus lived his life with the knowledge that his life’s ultimate purpose would be fulfilled by his death.
Please note that death was not something pleasant even for Jesus. He knew his death was going to be terrible and costly physically, mentally and spiritually; that is why he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That is why he wept for Lazarus, his friend who had died, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Death is not a good thing.
However, Jesus willingly laid down his life for others because he saw his life purpose fulfilled with his death.
That led me to my first thought:- that we could face death with with more peace if we believed that our lives had purpose and we have lived it to the full.
Last Friday, I also learned about the death of one very sweet and very inspiring lady. Her name was Sharon and she died of cancer. The doctors had given her less than 6 months to live but she fought on for 21 months. She had her chemotherapy and suffered through the hair loss and nausea. She had periods when she was desperately ill and others where it seemed like she was almost untouched by the disease. But through even the worse of it, she was always ready with a smile and encouragement for those around her. In fact, her friends say that she smiled with her whole face.
And giving encouragement to others was just what she did. During those 21 months, she took care of her family and friends, ministering to those who had come to minister to her and she used her energy to set up a Cancer support group for patients and care givers that has been a blessing to several hundred people already.
This was a very special woman and I must add that her compassion for cancer victims did not start only when she herself was stricken by the disease but some 30 years earlier, she had already started to do voluntarily work which included raising money for disabled and abandoned children, and providing support for cancer patients who had their life savings swindled by con men offering fake cures. Her efforts made such an impression that she was given the keys to the city. Amazing achievements, I am sure you would agree but I never heard about any of this from Sharon herself. I only learned about it from the eulogies at her funeral – which only emphasizes just how rare a life Sharon lived.
She had fought the disease as much as she possibly could but she never stopped living life as she wanted to. She spent her last days spending time with her loved ones (including a couple of holidays), going out to eat her favorite foods (even when she was not able to eat more than a spoonful) and most of all, still serving and encouraging others.
But, as her life spark began to ebb for the final time, she was at peace. Death did not scare her because she was confident in her faith that God who had been with her though it all was ready to lead her to everlasting life after death.
This led me to my second reflection; if we have hope beyond death, we are able to enjoy life to the full and still be able to let go when the time comes and not cling on to life in desperation and fear.
This is the antidote to the unhappy state that is referred to by the poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote these poignant but sad lines about his dying father;
Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The tragedy of the sinking of the Korean ferry is very much in the news; a tragedy made worse by the fact that so many of the victims were young students from a High School near Seoul. At the moment of this posting, 104 have been confirmed dead and 198 are still missing. This is so very sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all who have perished.
However, it was the story about the school vice-principle that really touched me. He was one of the 174 fortunate ones that were picked up and rescued from the sinking ferry. He had been brought back on land. He had been given a second chance at life.
He was found a couple of days later hanging from a tree. Apparently, he had committed suicide. He was given a second chance at life and he chose to end it.
Why did he do it? I am sure he felt he had his reasons. It could have been from a sense of responsibility as he had organised the school trip. It could have been through a sense of fear of the anger of the bereaved parents; how could he face them? It could have been through a sense of guilt; why did he survive when so many young people died? I don’t know what was going through his mind that he thought he had to end his life.. It may seem that he had wasted his second chance but I don’t blame him or judge him. I am just sorry that there was no one there for him at that moment when he needed help.
But as I thought about it, I came to my third reflection; when we have no more hope in life, then death is welcomed.
Now most of us don’t think much about death and dying cause we are too busy with living and death seems distant. But I think death sets the context and helps us understand life just as we cannot really understand and appreciate light if we have not experience darkness, sweetness if we haven’t experience sourness etc.
I know I have been incredibly reflective and sombre. Thank you for sticking with me if you have made it this far down the post. I guess what I have been trying to say is that we need to examine our understanding of the end of life so that we can live our lives wisely. I always say that my one wish is to “die happy” cause that must mean that I look back at my life without regret and look forward with hope.
A fire blazes bright and warm,
Where darkness once held reign,
It lights the garden of my heart,
Through wind, clouds and rain.
Where once I wondered at the sky
where flickering stars glitter bright
my eyes, my soul now inward cast
at dancing flames and laughing light
And in its glow, I dare to dream
To rise beyond earthly bounds
To soar on spirit wings and hope
To the symphony of nightly sounds
A fire blazes bright and warm
Within the sanctuary of my heart
At peace, I in slumber rest
Assured that I am under its guard
1962 and the world faced possible oblivion
It was the year of nuclear confrontation
Superpowers facing off over missiles in Cuba
It was the pinnacle of Cold War drama.
While for the first time on the movie screen
James Bond, on service to Her Majesty the Queen
Fights Dr. No while drinking vodka martini
And still has time to romance the ladies.
The world was doing the Twist with Chubby Checker,
The Beatles took on Ringo Starr as drummer
The Telstar made possible trans-Atlantic broadcasting
And Rachel Carson raised the alarm about Silent Spring.
A small town girl named Norma Jean
Came to Hollywood to fulfill her dreams
But the world of fame has its dark and soul sapping side
And in 1962, Marilyn Monroe slipped into the night
Into this year, I was born on the 13th September
The doctor spanked me and made me holler
And since then I have been ready to expect
The good and the bad out of this strange life.
Altogether, methinks that 1962 was quite the year.
Some songs just seem to have a global appeal. They spread their wings and touch hearts far beyond their own country’s borders. Guantanamera is one such song. It was originally written in 1929 by Jose Fernandez Diaz and was about a beauty from Guantanamo who spurns the singer’s advances. However, it was when Julian Orbon paired the song with lyrics adapted from the first poem of the collection ” Versos Sencillos” (Simple Verses) by Cuban poet and independence hero, Jose Marti, that it rapidly rose to the status of unofficial Cuban national anthem.
Even in Malaysia, we used to learn to sing this song at schools and universities. We sang it at gatherings, at picnics and at campfire. This is a little surprising as most Malaysians don’t know any Spanish, let alone how to pronounce Spanish lyrics. We have little historical contact with Spain and almost none with Cuba. Yet most Malaysians when I was growing up knew and loved the song.
But I knew nothing about the meaning of the song or about Jose Marti until I chanced across a performance of the song by Pete Seeger on the radio. Suddenly, the song became more than just a chant beside a campfire, it really touched the soul with its search for freedom, its yearning for peace and its willingness to forgive. Few poems have moved me as much especially knowing that Jose Marti died shortly after, as a result of living true to his beliefs.
It took me a very, very long time to find a video of that same performance by Pete Seeger. Hope you enjoy his rendition and his explanation of the song as well as the words below.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
I am a truthful man, From the land of the palm trees. Before dying, I want to Share these poems of my soul.
My poems are soft green, But they are also flaming crimson. My poems are like a wounded fawn, Seeking refuge in the forest.
I cultivate a white rose In June and in January For the sincere friend Who gives me his hand.
And for the cruel one who would tear out This heart with which I live. I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles I cultivate a white rose.
With the poor people of this earth, I want to share my fate. The little streams of the mountains Pleases me more than the sea.
A kind soul inquired after me,
Seeking news of the beach bum wannabe,
“This child of the wind, sand and sea,
This free spirit, How fares he?
As he dreams beneath the coconut trees”
But lo, behold the beach bum squirrel isn’t there,
Rocked by the breeze, the hammock swings bare
Awoken by the tweet of the modern bugle blare
He was ripped from the peace and nary a care
And now he’s running around like the Mad March Hare
This week has come upon me like a devil wind,
I’ve had to do all sorts and manner of things,
Seen doctors, lawyers and I’ve bailed someone out,
And even my casual work is pressing and piling up
With no beach for frolicking nor time for bumming,
That for a beach bum is completely and utterly shocking.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels