ad astra per alia porci


a series of deaths
May 12, 2008, 2:43 am
Filed under: diary

11/05/08

I came back from my friend’s mother’s funeral this morning and I was thinking a lot about and reflecting upon certain events that happened in the past few weeks which affected the tenor and mood post-exams. A series of deaths happened during the period just before and immediately after my exams and it provided much fruit for thought on life and what I should be doing from now on. Three deaths, all involving people that I have not known personally (with the exception of one), which got me pondering the larger meaning of my existence and evaluating my current attitude to life.

The first was the death of my tutor’s wife. My class was informed of it right at the end of the last lesson we ever had with him, and it was quite a surprising revelation for some. I always thought that there was something wrong all along because of the muted and subdued manner in which he related to us as a class; his revelation confirmed my hunch. He seemed to walk around with a dark cloud hanging over him.

His wife passed away after her battle with bone cancer about 2 weeks before the lesson, and he told us that it was his wife which gave him the strength to carry on teaching us and setting the exam questions. I was touched by his narration of his relationship with his wife, and it is clear that he has lost his soul mate. On particular important part was when he told us how his wife would always remind him to live in the moment, that whenever he seemed to be thinking about the 101 things to do in the future while he was doing something presently, his wife will remind him to stay in the moment and appreciate it. I found myself drawing parallels with myself; I am very much guilty of being obsessed with planning ahead and failing to enjoy the current moment for its own sake.

The second was the death of my uncle. He was my mother’s cousin. I only have a few opportunities to see him in person and interact with him, and those occasions were largely during Chinese New Year visits.

If anyone fitted the bill of a genuinely nice, earnest and honest person, it was him. He had no airs about him and from his actions and demeanour one can see that he is very gentle and does all he can to provide for his family. Literature is littered with references to the “average” man, the Everyman and “the 9-5 man”; he was such a man. A receding hairline, black-rimmed glasses, a square jaw and a measured yet never over-bearing way of addressing others. His house was modestly decorated, with white unpretentiously bare walls and the mandatory TV that was probably an old model bought a long time ago. He seems like the fabled man on the Clapham omnibus, which any student of the law will know about.

What was truly tragic was that like all ordinary folk, he struggled in life to make ends meet and improve his family’s position in life, and just when things were turning out better, he passed away, leaving his two daughters and wife behind. He was an insurance agent and it brought a tear to my eye when his wife told us that he had never done well in insurance despite his honest efforts and this year happened to be a groundbreaking year for him, just too bad that he passed away.

I was immediately reminded of WIlly Loman from Death of a Salesman. The whole event was made even more sad by the fact that my uncle was an insurance salesman. If there is any profession that epitomises struggle and, to quote WIlly, trying to make a living on “a smile and a shoeshine”, this is it. Effort does not translate into results; insurance agents need to have a certain amount of luck as well as natural charisma in order to do well in their line. This highlighted to me the inherent unfairness of life, that honest and earnest hard work done in order to compensate for inherent disadvantages counts for nothing much. I think a large majority of ordinary people face that all their lives, and they struggle futilely against it. Face it, if one is equipped with a below-average intellect, there is nothing much one can do in life, however hard one works to compensate for it. And life shouldn’t be like that. That is the most stinging point. If there was a creator, he is surely not a benevolent one.

The third was the death of my friend’s mother. While other sons and daughters celebrate their noble mothers, my friend had to cremate his mother on Mother’s Day. The details are particularly tragic, and while I knew that this friend of mine always had problems with his family, I never knew the depth of his problems. His mother committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness, which was apparently partly due to his father’s abuse. His father divorced his mother and left a long time ago. Even at the wake he was not there. I went for the wake on two occasions to provide some support and comfort for my friend; I stayed over one night together with my army friends, who are probably the closest friends he have.

This had be reevaluating my relationship with my own family. Any discontent I have with my present family seem to be reduced to dust when I compare my situation with my friend’s. I am lucky to even have a complete family, albeit one that seems fractured at times. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I was my friend. Currently his plan is to move out of his current house to a smaller one with his brother, because the current place is the scene of too many painful memories.

This series of deaths greatly affected my mood post-exams; I realised that life is really very short and I should make the most of this holidays and not spend the whole of it just doing nothing and bumming around. On the other hand, I need to learn how to live in the moment and stop obsessing and worrying excessively about the future. A fine balance needs to be struck.

On a rather sombre note, I would like to wish all my friends in law school a great holiday period. I know that some of you guys have access to my blog and I hope that this holiday is a fruitful one for you all.

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