Sunday, July 26, 2020

Going Out With a Bang

'It's storming!' my ten-year old son Pickle shouted from the balcony.

'Mom!' his twin Papad piped up hopefully, 'Can we go outside?'

I peered out. There was a strong whistling wind, and the rain had started to come down hard. I bit my lip, feeling my own child-like impulse to run out and play with my children. And then, a combination of intuition and sense came together and I said firmly 'Maybe after a while, it looks like it's going to be a bad storm.'

The twins groaned and Papad muttered bad-naturedly 'But it will be no FUN if it stops raining.' Still, they knew better than to push their point, and instead we sat down for lunch together. It was a good call because the thundering noises from outside indicated it was a very rough storm.

We jumped in our chairs at the sudden crash and some tinkling sounds from outside.

'What was that?' Pickle jumped from his chair. 'I'll go see...'

'Sit back down.' I instructed. 'Must be one of the lights.'

After lunch, I glanced out and saw it was relatively calmer. I announced. 'We can go for a bit now.'

'It's BARELY drizzling,' grumbled Papad, but his bubbly brother was already running to put on his shoes and so he followed suit.

'Peanut,' I called to their almost-teenage sister. 'Let's go out in the rain.'

Her usual reaction would have been to protest about doing anything along with the twins, but surprisingly, she just nodded nonchalantly and agreed to come along.

We had barely walked five steps when we stopped in our tracks. There was a crowd of people, security guards and drivers in front of us, but what caught our eye first was actually the object they surrounded. A huge tree just near our house had fallen right over in the storm and lay sprawled by the side of the road. We drew closer and gasped. It had fallen right on top of someone's parked car. The crash we had heard had been from its windshield shattering and the front and side of the vehicle was damaged and bent in various places. It didn't have a hope.

'Ohhhhh.' I breathed. 'Poor...whoever...' I was relieved no one seemed to have gotten hurt, although I also felt simultaneously relieved that it hadn't been our new car that had been totaled.

Pickle and Papad were staring unabashedly at the damage and I hurried them along from that spot into the main park area. There we spent a blissful hour with the two of them running around, and Peanut and I practising cartwheels, my enthusiasm notably higher than the gangly child already taller than me. It was a beautiful afternoon and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We were the only ones in the park, which is common during the rare occasions that I do take my kids into the rain, and I turned the other cheek as the boys found muddy puddles to splash around and roll in.

When I'd had enough - or rather when Peanut decided this was boring and she had cooler almost-teenage things to do elsewhere, we headed back. The twins of course didn't want to leave and dragged their feet.

I passed the fallen tree again. The crowd had disappeared and I was suddenly overcome by a sense of sadness. Hang on - this was the same tree that I never could never actually remember the name of - Gulmohar? - the one with red flowers. I had recently looked down at it from the terrace and it had looked beautiful with its bright red blossom in full glory. And hey - I now noticed; this was the one tree that actually shaded almost the entire small park where Vijay and I had started to do our morning yoga. I looked up and saw that we would now be exposed not just to the rays of the sun each morning, but would have no privacy at all because rows and rows of flats now looked directly onto this park. Oh no.

My steps slowed as I crossed the tree. How old was this tree anyway? How many years it must have taken for it to grow to its full height - it was huge. And it took just a few seconds for it to fall over and die. They would clear it up soon and all but the stump would remain. How had the storm got the better of it anyway? The other trees were spared; and this one had looked so sturdy and strong...

I looked around to make sure the twins were coming. They were nowhere to be seen. I retraced a few steps and then I saw them - the boys were near the tree, examining with awe the spectacle of it resting on its broken, hapless victim, 'some uncle's car.' With no one to tell them to get away, my twins were taking in the sight fully and with their usual unrepressed glee.

When we got home, Pickle wrapped his arms around my waist. 'Thank you, mom!'

'Get off me, you muddy pig.' I scolded and extricated myself. I smiled at his cheeky grin. 'And what are you thanking me for anyway?'

'Thank you for taking me out to the park! It was so fun!'

'It was, I suppose.' I had to agree.

'The best part,' He went on though I hadn't asked. 'Was the fallen tree! On the car! In the rain!' I gaped at him, but he just closed his eyes and his smile widened even further as he relived the moment, breathing reverentially - 'It was all so bee-yoo-tiful.'


Death is something our family is familiar with. My father passed away when I was 19; we have had various relatives die over the years and my grandparents all passed away recently so my children also know what it means to lose someone in the family. I almost died ten years ago myself and the experience profoundly changed my outlook on life.

My daughter has been particularly uncomfortable with the thought of death; as a younger kid, she used to cry often about it especially at nights and it was more than we could do to fully comfort her. 
More recently, she came in completely panicked and weeping to our room and she went on saying 'I don't want to die. I won't die. I'll never die. How can I just end? I won't, I won't, I won't.' 

My husband launched into a sudden panicked lecture himself on the scientific studies around elongating life and how Peanut herself might be one of the great scientists who ensured everyone lived to be a 150 easily, and more along those lines. 

I was listening to what she was saying about 'Never ending'. After my husband's words had no effect whatsoever, I interrupted him and told her, 'Peanut, you said you never want to end, right?'

'Right.' Came the muffled voice from the face buried in our drenched pillow. 

'Okay,' I said as calmly as I could, 'But we don't know what happens after death, right? How can anyone know for sure if we do end?' 

This did the trick. I'm not usually the more calm or responsive or responsible or effective parent, but my listening skills as a coach do prove handy from time to time. Peanut calmed down drastically. In a few moments, she was ready to go back to her room, but she hugged me and asked, 'Mom, can you write an article for me about death, so I can keep reading it if I feel scared?'

I promised to her that I would.

And then I didn't. I kept waiting for the moment to be right. 

The death of the beautiful tree spurred me to write this, though.

We are all going to die. And we are unlikely going to get to choose how or when we do. If we are allowed to grow old and then die, it is a great privilege. It is. But personally, right now, I must admit it is scary for me to think of losing my body's strength and vitality and my mental acuity, and to be unable to pursue so many of the things that I love because of some health issues that may crop up. So am I scared of death? No. Am I scared of poor health and elongated process of dying? Yes.

So my personal preference - not that it matters much, it's not like we get to place an order for this sort of thing out of a menu - would be to go out like that tree (minus the part of landing on the car maybe, I'd like to avoid hurting anyone). But definitely with a bang and not after a period of slow decline and rot. In the midst of an awesome storm, with a thunderous crash that rocks the ground, perhaps only some sort of momentary dance of resistance.

To have someone think later. 'Oh...but she was so strong. Just yesterday, she was blooming, full of life and vitality!'

To have someone think later. 'I'll miss her. She gave me loving protection that I didn't even realize while she was around. It mattered...I want her to know that.' 

And maybe, just as I noticed the park was going to get more light and sun, to also think without guilt. 'There's more light and maybe it will be okay once I figure it out. I wonder what's possible.' 

And also, as it happens when someone we know or know of passes on - 'Wow. If she could go out like that, it could happen to me too. Well, at least she looked like she did what she really wanted. What if I have less time than I think? What might I do differently?'

Because death does seem awful; and it will inevitably be rough on those who will miss us after we're gone. But we who pass on are unlikely to feel a thing - or maybe we do feel something amazing and liberating - who knows?

The point is, no one of us knows what happens.  We'll just each have to find out for ourselves. Not much choice there. And despite my fantasy about how I would like to go out with a bang, I'm unlikely to have a choice in that matter, as well. So? I suppose we only get to choose our attitude towards the whole thing. We can choose dread, or discomfort, or grudging acceptance...but we can also choose from peace, wonder, curiosity and whatever else we want. 

And then, maybe, we can relax a bit about it. And let the idea of the inevitable just be a reminder over what we do have some modicum of influence on: the question of how we're going to live in the time that we do have. Starting right now. Because it is all so bee-yoo-tiful. 

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