Death Is Instructive

In light of recent obituaries in the press, this old post came to mind.

I have been to too many funerals in the last few years than I would care to experience.  They have been for family members; older friends and much younger friends; some children; colleagues and close friends; wives of church leaders and congregation members; parents of my friends, my own estranged dad – so so many than I would care to count.

I cry at weddings so it will be no surprise to discover that I weep at funerals whether I was close to the person or not. However, no matter the relationship I am always struck by two main things.

  1. Whenever tributes are read I am sometimes struck by how little I knew about the person who I was weeping over. How is it that I never knew x,y and z about this person – especially if we were in close proximity?  Like how didn’t  I know they were so caring or so giving or so wise or so funny or so weird or so interesting?  How is it that I spent so much time ‘around’ them but never know that?
  2. Regrets. If I had known that would be the last time I saw that person, I would have called.  I would have visited more.  I would have gone to that party they invited me to but was too tired to make.  I would have invited them to my home for dinner.  I would have told her I loved her.  I would have thanked them for being a great friend or supporting me through that tough period.  I would have spoken more from the heart and not had superficial conversations. I would have found out how they were really doing.  Were they happy? I would have made our last moment together count.  I wouldn’t have spent so much time being upset about that time they spoke to me in a funny way or how I felt they had treated me.  I would have kept in touch.  I would have taken more of an interest in them.  I would have ……..

Death is instructive

Indeed death is very instructive.  A funeral or a graveside is a great place to start if you want a reality check on how you are living your life.  There were a few successive years when it seemed like the only social functions I was attending were funerals.  I learnt a great deal about myself and the sort of person I wanted to be over those years.

Relationships are crucial to humanity. Even for introverts like mysel,  I willingly admit that I need relationships to keep me alive. The tragedy of life is that we take people around us for granted.  For some deluded reason we seem to think we will always be around; we will always have each other.  We take life for granted, that its electrodes will always course through our veins.  We all live in the eternal hope that we will be sustained with long life.  And so we treat each other like we will always meet tomorrow. However the reality is you never know when good bye means see you on another shore.  And so:

  • We talk to each other without listening because tomorrow we will talk again.
  • We go to bed angry, because tomorrow we will make up.
  • We are unkind to each other, because tomorrow we can make amends.
  • We withdraw our love from each other, because tomorrow they may hurt us again.
  • We do not sacrifice our time to spend it with someone because we can always go there tomorrow.
  • We do not pick up the phone to call because we will have more time to speak tomorrow.
  • We do not visit that person in hospital because tomorrow they’ll be out and we can go and see them at home.
  • We do not say sorry, because tomorrow we can be friends again.
  • We do not say thank you now because tomorrow ……………..
  • We do not say I love you, because they should know and tomorrow ………

I am not looking to score brownie points or fulfil some sort of sick righteousness, but because if, God forbid, I ever have to attend a funeral of someone I care for again, I do not want to regret not knowing them or experiencing a tangible relationship with them.  And so I call or text when people come to mind.  I ask if they are happy.  I say thank you for being there for me.  I laugh with them, cry with them.  I listen even when I feel they have not even thought about how I’m doing – I listen.  I travel longer distances now to share precious moments with them.  I reach out even when they haven’t asked after me in ages.  I bake them a cake to say I care. Just because – just because you never know if tomorrow will come, I’m trying to treat my relationships like there is no tomorrow.  Trying – it is an ongoing personal challenge.

One trick I have learnt, particularly when I feel I have been wronged by someone; I think, what if you hear tomorrow that this person has died, how would you feel?  If I feel remorse or regret and then I know, it’s not worth being upset over. Let it go.

Indeed death is instructive! Learn from it.

Leaving The Past In The Past

One adult decision you could ever make is to accept that there is nothing you can do about the past.

You can’t go back and make more time where you have squandered it; you can’t un-date that man that broke your heart; you can’t make debt disappear; you can’t take back what you said and no, you can’t give your children back 🙂

When that time has past, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

However, the future or even tomorrow or the very next minute you take a breath – that’s something you can change. Let’s stop spending an inordinate amount of time regretting not doing this or having that. Tomorrow, if not that next minute, offers a fresh opportunity to start from where you are and leave the past in the past. By all means, learn from the past but for heaven’s sake, leave it there.

And then you are left with another adult decision – to accept that only you can change what you don’t like.

Unbridled Passion

My son’s obsession with football has got me thinking a lot about what I’m passionate about. I mean on the same level of enthusiasm that he exhibits. My reflections have reignited some childhood memories of playing the piano. I loved playing the piano. It was an obsession. By the time I was ten I had attained a Grade 4 in music having only previously done Grade 1 and I remember my teacher saying I was the youngest person in Africa to achieve that. And by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had completed my Grade 8 examinations with a pass grade. I recall crying because I had always gotten a distinction in music. I was gutted. As gutted as my son feels when his sister tears one of his football cards (I’m starting to see that apple doesn’t fall far from tree here).

I was gutted because I spent all my time practising to the detriment of my other subjects. Music was the only thing that I was good at in school. It saved me from feeling stupid in an educational system that was based on, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, the transmission of knowledge and the testing of data. With music I felt free and confident. I would sit down at the piano after rushing through my homework, and practise scales and pieces for at least three hours, everyday after school – involuntarily. No one had to make me do it. I loved it. I was self motivated. And I played very very very well but I hated the theory. The theory was the reason I got a mere pass.

There isn’t any interest under that gaze of heaven that doesn’t require an understanding of the rudimentary elements. Whilst I had excelled in playing the piano, I payed very little attention to the theoretical aspect. I knew the elementary things but as I progressed it got more and more difficult for me. It was easier to play. Who wanted to learn about chords, triads, transposition and the rest of it when I could just play it? I didn’t need to understand them I thought. Wrong! The exams did not just require you to play an instrument but you were also tested on theoretical aspects as well. And as I had really done the perquisite Grade 5 theory exams just because I had to, my only focus was to get through the barest minimum. As a result, I lacked a true understanding some of the vital points of music. I just wanted to play. I didn’t want any of the seriousness that went along with it. Clearly I need lessons on dedication from my son.

Every passion needs taming. Without dedication and commitment to honing a skill or talent, you end up feeling unrequited love or even worse – mediocre. I probably could have done a lot more with my musical gift; but I was unwilling to discipline myself. I was unwilling to embark on the uphill journey that all masters of a craft must take. I wanted the easy way out. The path of least resistance. The path of the least amount of work. I wanted the rewards of being a pianist with very little effort.

I can still play and read music quite well but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. My children are taking lessons now and it’s nice to be able to help them along with that. However, I know if I had to strike a conversation with someone who did it the right way, I would struggle. That is not what you would expect at that level. I should be able to tell you composers I loved, what it was about them I liked and what my favourite piece was and so forth but alas I can’t because I wasn’t paying much attention to that. I have acquired a great skill, but it would have been nice to have mastered it properly.

So I guess the morale of the story is, if you claim to be passionate about something, possess a willingness to learn all about it; take the time necessary to grow the passion and give plenty of opportunity to practice it. Yes, even if it is football trivia. No one has a right to tell you what your passion should be but if you claim to have one, do it some justice and live it wholeheartedly and have no regrets!