Death is the real teacher about life

Tuesday did not begin well for me. I had to view the funeral of a college batchmate, colleague, and friend live at 2 a.m. being streamed from the United Kingdom. I couldn’t stay awake beyond midnight on Monday. And so, I woke up at five on Tuesday morning and saw the recording. It upset me to the very depths of my being and I couldn’t get over the grief and disillusionment that set in all through the day.

The death of the Cheltenham, Gloucestershire based Dr. Christina Manohar, wife of Dr. David Manohar – also my batchmate, colleague, and friend, once again inspired within me questions of life’s meaning and purpose. Life and death are endlessly continuing experiences in the realm of this earthly reality. Humans are born every moment and they die every moment somewhere on this earth. But it doesn’t affect us. We are affected with ecstatic joy and with harrowing sadness respectively only in the context of relationships; positive ones. The birth of a child speaks to the meaning and purpose of life. The death of a friend or relative shouts aloud and clouds the horizon making life’s meaning and purpose totally invisible and dejecting. The latter is what happened to me all through this day.

Christina was a simple, humble, and pleasant lady in her mid-fifties, immensely devoted to her professional responsibilities and with a deep sense of religiosity. In the few years that I have known her, I have never seen her get angry and hurt anyone. She was never crafty or scheming. Never mean or selfish. She had a very plain and straight-forward approach to life, and she lived her life with great conviction and with the desire always to be on the right side of things.

One would expect people like Christina to live a long, peaceful, and prosperous life without any trouble. That was not to be.  Christina and David faced steep challenges in life, and probably the worst of all, she was taken away so early. Christina succumbed to a lung infection at the Cheltenham General Hospital.

I could not help avoid thinking with a crushed spirit that God is not fair and equal. At one point during the funeral I even allowed my mind to prompt within me that God isn’t just. For if God was all these, i.e. fair, just, and equal – Christina would have been rewarded for the great person she was, and she would have lived longer than most of us. In the short life she lived, she has published four books, many articles, and the priest who officiated at the funeral said she was in the process of writing four more books.

God could have allowed Christina to complete those writings. How does God work so abruptly, I thought. God seems to have no sense of time; no propriety; no decorum. God walks into a situation when God pleases and walks out of it surprising and shocking everyone. When I think of God, I always think of God in relation to ideals and absolutes. But God’s acts in the realm of reality do not always bear evidence of that.

Christina’s death hurt me deep within. Everything seemed meaningless and useless. This life itself was of no consequence. It is only a matter of time, and we too will be gone – six feet under or turned to ashes! What is the point in striving and struggling to conquer this world and make a name for ourselves? One day I shall be no more, leaving behind grief and pain for those close to me and fading thoughts of my time with others. And then there will come a day when I will not even be remembered. And if I am, then without any feeling. The morning hurt very badly. The death of someone known to me had once again startled and shaken me as it often does.

My thoughts shifted to Manohar, my dear friend with whom in our younger days I’ve spent many hours chatting and laughing. Manohar reminded me a couple days back that he still vividly remembers the day early in their marriage when I made them laugh till they could laugh no more. Today, after his dear wife’s mortal remains were gone and the guests had turned their backs to return home or to work, Manohar would go home to an empty house. That broke my heart. 

God is not merely not fair, just, and equal. God is also downright cruel, I thought. Which good and moral being would do this to someone else? God does this all the time. I could think of God being cruel only because these two individuals were connected to me. But people die every moment somewhere in the world. Someone somewhere experiences God abandoning them all the time. They experience the cruel hand of God sanctioning unbearable pain in their lives. I couldn’t hold back my tears for my friend Manohar. It was too hurting for me. Manohar would live the rest of his life without Christina, and that thought for me was very painful.

Early in their marriage, I had visited them in Bombay (Mumbai) from my native Pune. I remember them telling me that they planned to invest all their lives in the training of young people through the Indian arm of the Intervarsity Fellowship and later in the arena of theological education. They seemed passionate and determined. They did that for nearly three decades. But now, about 28 years later, Manohar has been left alone. There is a limit to how much we can depend on things going to plan in this life. Some things we can foresee, but not all. With some things we might be lucky depending on God, but not with all things. That’s just how this life is.

I emailed Manohar immediately after I had watched the funeral. I assured him of renewing my connections with him and told him that he will be in my thoughts and prayers. I urged him not to be dejected, and not to lose courage.

A friend’s untimely death had once again made me reflect on the meaning, purpose, and value of life. And though my heart had become bitter, I later told myself that a negative spirit will only defeat me on this mysterious journey. I will complete this journey well if I recognize its limitations and uncertainties, and learn to take them positively.

-Reuben Louis Gabriel teaches philosophy and history at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George.