Strange, how some thoughts dwell eternally in our brains while others pass through the sieve of our grey matter, to vanish for ever to god knows where. Of all the myriad poems my English Literature teachers tried to impress on our bored, distracted student minds, for some reason the one that made a deep impression and stuck on with me was John Donne’s ‘Death Be Not Proud.’
Actually, it was the line ‘Death Be Not Proud’ that made a deep impression even though I was all of 16 and at that age, who thinks of death? Youth tends to believe in its own immortality. But what a line! I always read it as there is no need for us to be scared of death and the poet is telling Death not to be so proud of the power to take away a life!
I came across this beautifully written analysis of the poem recently by Arthur Christopher Schaper who observes, “Donne has…transformed a transcendental struggle of life and death into a quiet ending, one in which death “shall be no more.” Elsewhere, Schaper writes, “It is the will of man that triumphs over the cessation of life, the will to believe in what cannot be seen, to dismiss “poor death” as mere “pictures” compared to the substance of life infused with the Spirit.” For those who are interested in reading Schaper’s full article (and John Donne’s poem), I have posted the link at the end of this blog.
I was too young (and not very interested) in deep metaphysical meanings when I first heard Donne’s poem. If I was struck by the poem, it probably was because the subject of death always held a strange fascination for me. No, let me rephrase that. Death was only a doorway. What enthralled me was the possibility of reincarnation.
Do we part only to meet again?
In hindsight, I now know that I tended to view life as scenes unfolding from a drama filled with romance, comedy, tragedy and well….high drama. Writing this, I am smiling, because this ridiculous scene and dialogue from the Bollywood blockbuster Sholay is persistently floating across my mind. Remember Dharmendra perched precariously on top of the village water tank tower reciting in his trademark comic tones, “Is story mein emotion hai, drama hai, tragedy hai”? Well, that was exactly me in my young days. I suspect I found life very interesting because I saw drama everywhere. In fact, a close male friend once accused me, right in the middle of crying on my shoulder of the heartbreak he was going through, “You are only interested in material for the next chapter in that book you are always planning to write.” Guilty as charged! But not entirely since I did feel his pain and very deeply at that.
Getting back on track, the possibility of reincarnation always captured my imagination. Think about it. Life’s drama spread over several lifetimes! Even today, I can watch and re-watch The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, Audrey Rose or closer to home, Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (a film I must have watched over a dozen times). I also devoured many a book on the subject (Edgar Cayce, Dr. Ian Stevenson, Brian Weiss), in an endeavour to determine whether reincarnation was a true-blue phenomenon or wishful thinking on the part of humanity that there is life after death and a repeated chance of meeting loved ones or making up for all those lost chances.
Recent scientific research studies now show that memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors (I have posted a link to one related article at the end of this blog for anyone who wishes to read more on the subject). I wonder if that accounts for people remembering past lives – only not their own but an ancestor’s .
If that’s true, what a bummer! I rather believe that kindred souls meet again and again over several lifetimes to enjoy life and each other’s company!
The extinguishing of a life!
On a more serious note, it has always puzzled me why people literally panic so much at the mere mention of death. I am prone to airily talk about dying now and then. And each time I do so, several people hasten to shush me saying, “Don’t talk like that or it may come true.”
Am I scared of dying? Sure, I am. But it is not death itself that scares me in so much as the process of dying. Who wants to suffer physical pain? And more important, who wants to impose mental and financial pain on near and dear ones with costs of medical care being what it is these days? Death, by itself, however, does not scare me perhaps because I believe that the consciousness that is in me will survive. In whatever form that may be! Through the memories that other people have of me. Or, because I have floated away to another dimension in this Universe. Or another Universe for that matter. I know one thing. People who I have loved and lost over the years continue to live on…in my consciousness.
I sometimes visualise the soul as a beautiful and amorphous blueish white or soft yellow light. Slowly, dark globs appear here and there, disfiguring the inviting, loving warmth. Those globs represent scars left behind by emotional pain inflicted by what we so loosely call life. Each time a scar forms, the light dims till one day life itself is extinguished. To really understand the somewhat distressing picture I am trying to verbally paint here, you need to recollect if you have ever seen the life momentarily go out of someone’s eyes as she or he recoils from deep hurt and unbearable pain. It is particularly heart rending when you see the pain and bewilderment in a child’s eyes, inflicted by people whom the child trusts and depends on.
This then is the main reason why the standard reactions to any talk of death puzzle me. And that is, if you really think about it, many of us have already experienced death a thousand and one times during this lifetime!
Yet, we live on. So, what’s the big deal about death? Donne was right – Death be not proud!
Author’s Post Script
People who know me well will read this blog and think, “There she goes again!” For people who don’t know me that well – No, this blog has not been brought on by knowledge of impending death. Neither do I have any life threatening conditioning. Not yet, anyway!
Links to articles mentioned