In this wedge of time between Divali and Christmas, forgive me if sentimentality has crept in. Another comrade has fallen —Errol Pilgrim. When I think of him, I hear his voice, signing off on a news story on TTT. More than his work, I think of his wide toothy smile from a distance. He didn’t know me well but always made me feel like he somehow saw me. By that, I mean he didn’t get glazed eyes when he met mine. He nodded. He saw me, and I saw him.
Errol’s death makes me think of another friend who went to Mount Kailash two years ago. The first place his Guru took him was to a mass ground of funeral pyres. The Guru made the group look at the burning pyres till they turned from human form to ash.
“This is who we are,” he informed the group as relatives picked up the ashes of their loved ones. “Two kilos of topsoil.”
No, it’s not depressing. It’s a reminder to treat every moment on earth as if it’s precious, and not just to ourselves, to others. If humans want immortality, we only get it in relation to others.
A friend of mine has been widowed. He lost his relatively young wife—to cancer. He called me from a hospital in Toronto, saying she’d gone, still warm, still on her death bed. He hadn’t yet informed the hospital staff. “I’m sitting here with my love.”
Hours before he’d held her hand said, “I’ll always look out for you.” She whispered back, “And I will look out for you.”
When I think of my friend’s wife, I remember her teasing wit that missed nothing, her interest in other peoples stories, as if within others, she would find the answers to questions she sought for herself.
Her last words to me on Facebook in August were of hope— “I hope I make it to the New Year.” And kindness. A heart and a kiss. She was in pain and still looking out for me. As long as I remember her, she’s still here.
If we want immortality, we want people to be looking out for us after we are gone.
In our last (inevitable) moments to take away the fright and loneliness of dying, we want someone to say, “I’m looking out for you.”
No matter how privileged or happy your circumstances are, most humans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe you remember neglect or a sharp as a child, or as an adult, you could have been cheated or suffered psychological or physical violence by someone you trusted and loved. And I haven’t touched on pandemics, poverty, or crime here.
Most humans are in fight or flight mode. It’s glaring in our cell phone etiquette and on social media.
People who disagree with us trigger our pain, remind us of someone else who inflicted it on us, and bring on a sweaty fight or flight impulse at the person before us. So we either fight: pulverise them with abuse, or block or stonewall -anything to escape the self-examination.
Yet deep inside, we still want people to say, “I am looking out for you.”
We want them to say, “You’re better than good enough. You’re great.”
Some demonstrate this need by posting photos of themselves online, in bed, with a pouty mouth, a dance. It’s not about the photo. It’s the shouting need saying. “look at me, look out for me.” But we know social media is a mirage, a faithless rabbit hole that abandons you once you get boring or needy.
Perhaps, if we wrestle the “fight and flight” monster in ourselves, pause when triggered and think deeply about what the other person is saying and where they are coming from, we would respond differently.
Instead of blocking or stonewalling or turning abusive, we could say, “Ok, what are you really saying here? How can we meet in the middle? How can we each get something of what we want instead of going the way of mass destruction?
“Sorry,” “Please” and “Thank You” fixes a lot. It implies that you regard other peoples feelings highly. Yet some who mistakenly feel they are in control find these words so humiliating they’d rather die than utter them, thus losing a chance to connect with others.
By defeating the ‘fight or flight monster,’ you see beyond your PTSD, beyond yourself. You recognise their humanness—They are fighting similar battles, trying to survive. You listen. You collaborate.
Help others. Make friends. You find people who say, “I am looking out for you.” And you reply, “And I am looking out for you.” And that, my friends, is the only thing that matters.