Easter. A time of hope and of despair. In NZ, it is when the leaves die and fall from the trees. In Korea, the cherry blossoms emerge from their buds. Regardless of wherever I am in the world, it is always a hard time of year for me. Especially when I am alone, like now.
It is at this time of year that I am haunted by bad memories from 10, even 20 years ago. And now, more recently, of things that could’ve been that weren’t. Of relationships that ended too soon. Of lessons learned the hard way. Of the worst case scenario rearing its ugly head. Of lives lost too early. While these few days of the year symbolize a period of grieving for me, I always try to look for the lessons and hope that the sun will rise tomorrow.
It was around this time of year five, six, or seven years ago – I’m not sure how many exactly, I stopped counting, that a dear friend passed away. It was my first experience with this kind of grief and was a major turning point in my life. Almost like a loss of innocence. Seeing for the first time the face of death. A plunge into despair that lasted for a year, although it has never entirely gone away.
It was under bizarre circumstances that I found myself traveling around the world on a ship with this friend, an American with an Indian name, Kumar. Along with 12 others from all over the world, we were young and idealistic and thought we could change the world. He was a musician obsessed with his djembe which was never far from his large hands. He would jam with it whenever he had half a chance. At one point, as we sailed through the cobalt blue oceans we were joined by a Kenyan band – a group of impossibly strong and beautiful men with their drums, their seductive African dance and their lightning bolt energy. Together, we sailed to Kenya and spent two days and one night at their home – a wooden lodge in the middle of a nowhere. We played music and danced all night surrounded only by drum beats, wild elephants and billions of shooting stars.
And so, as fate would have it, Kumar, who had an insatiable lust for life, the kind of person who goes skiing and surfing on the same day, decided two months later to follow his dream of living in Kenya and playing in the band. He went and was able to briefly live it. And then one day, while he was practicing yoga in his room, he was shot right in the heart. The leader of the band, Peter, was also murdered by the same band of thieves.
Kumar was young – 31, and the news of his death devastated communities throughout the world. His energy, passion and intelligence had affected positive change in many of the world’s poorest communities. He brought out the best in everyone and supported them in following their own bliss.
And so, as I find myself thinking about him, and everything that has happened since that fateful day, I try to embody the qualities of this man that I admire so much. He symbolizes courage, strength and optimism. Basking in his memory gives me a sense of hope and meaning – although he once said to me, over the phone, that everything happens for a reason, I don’t believe this. I do, however, believe in finding meaning in my own life by honoring his memory, what he accomplished and exemplified while he was here.
Writer Megan O’rourke who so eloquently wrote about her mother’s death from cancer said that, “Grief isn’t rational; it isn’t linear; it is experienced in waves…Grief comes in waves, welling up and dominating one’s emotional life, then subsiding, only to recur.” Kumar would no doubt like me to continue with the wave metaphor, to say that I was surfing the tsunami of grief that has come over me, knowing that it will soon subside into a calm ocean.
Until the waves settle again, I can take some solace from Ecclesiastes: For everything there is a season…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.