Saturday, May 26, 2007

Life & Its Realism

Coincidentally I have been reading/watching/coming across three artistic works that touch upon the topic of death.

The first one is Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which has now been turned into a play starring Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway. A candid and heartfelt reflection on the sudden death of Didion's husband in Dec 2004. A mental and psychological recount of the year immediately following the incident, compounded by the unexpected illness of her daughter who - as I was told - too passed away after the book was finished.

It's a story about grief. There is no magical solutions to the process of mourning or grief offered by Didion, only her honest sharing of her various emotional responses to grief, whether failed or ill-attempted. But it is precisely such willingness to talk about it, contemplate it, and admit one's utter inability to deal with grief until the moment comes that makes this book a powerful one.

As a 27-year-old who has never confronted death or witnessed the passing away of a close, loved one in life, this book humbles me.

The second one is a newly released movie called "Away from Her" directed by Sarah Polly and based on her original story titled "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." A story about an elderly lady dealing with Alzheimer's disease and the process of pain on the husband's end as he witnesses his beloved's condition worsens to a point where she no longer remembers the decades of marriage that they have once shared together. A slow, quiet, mellow film in which emotions are expressed only through subtle words if not faint facial expressions yet deeply felt through by the unfolding of the story and juxtapositions of streams of consciousness from the past.

It very much reminds me of my landlady's situation, whose husband suffered from Alzheimer's disease and just passed away about a month ago. My landlady's case was a much more happy one as until the very end her husband still in some vague sense recognized her as one of once shared intimacy. In the film, however, no traces of memory are found till the final end when a twist in the plot is introduced.

When memories dwindle away the heart certainly still feels. Yet whose heart does it still bond to becomes a much more complicated question. It makes one wonder whether or not the meaning of life in fact exists very much in one's sheer neural ability to make connections with the past or one's ability to remember things done and said in the past. In a ironic sense It seems as if the past determines more of the future or that it is the present/future that is haunted by memories or the very absence of the past.

The third one, "The Namesake," a film adopted from Jhumpa Lahiri's fictional debut is a beautiful tale of an Indian immigrant family arriving in the U.S. in the early 70s. It's not a film about death yet death does take place in the middle of the film, almost in an identical fashion like Didion's experience. The family does pull together at the end as the mom returns back to India and picks up singing again by the Ganges River while the son reconsiders the meaning of his Indian name and cultural identity.

How would I ever cope if the same thing falls upon me one day? Could I boast greater strength to go through such an unexpected turn of event in life than the wife in the film?

But one does cope, and one has to cope not so that life could go on but becauselife does go on regardless, as all three stories have taught me. When Dec 30, 2005 hit, Didion realized her year of magical thinking had to end, for any retrace of any day past 12/30/04 would no longer carry the presence of her husband. From that point on, it is no longer "he" or "his" or "him" or "them." It's "she" and only "she."

As a 27-year-old I do think quite a lot about death. But as Morrie has taught us during 14 of his Tuesday lessons, one only begins to learn about how to live when one begins to know how to die or what dying is. Once you know what the ultimate destination in life is then you could go ahead and plan life up until that point, even though that point is never known to any of us.

You Sit Down to Dinner
And then-gone

Such is life, in its most realistic light.

梅ちゃん at 2:36:00 PM



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