“HE SHALL not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain,”
“I’m not coming back, I’m not doing this again”, my Buddhist friend told me, the sadness in her dark eyes a testament to her determination. She told me of one of her nieces, still young, but a meditative from early childhood and how she could look into your eyes and tell you of your previous incarnations, your previous lives. I heard of the same possibility from a school classmate at our reunion a couple of weeks ago. Of an man living in Sligo who can tell you how many times you have lived, whether you are an old soul or not, was how it was put to me. Being a skeptic, its likely i’m a ‘new’ soul apparently and haven’t been around the block too often. Even at this age, it’s all ahead of me it seems.
“But you don’t have to come back”, she told me and i nodded as i’d heard that too. “You can say ‘No’, at the moment of death, if you can maintain enough clarity, enough concentration. If you have practiced enough, gained enough control through mediation”. I nodded again and thought of all life’s pleasures and wonderful moments, of love given and received, but i knew my friend had experienced them too, had enjoyed them but had weighed them up against the pain and suffering of life and found them wanting. Insufficient reasons to go through life again, if she could avoid it at all. “I will refuse”, she repeated, “I’ll refuse to come back again”.
“Nor voices of the sweeter birds,
Above the wailing of the rain.”
Her words came back to me recently when i heard of the passing of a friend. A friend who could not wait until the end to say “No more, not again”. A friend, and not the first, who sought and found an early release from life’s pain and suffering. I was not close enough as a friend, or in space, to know of the pain he was going through recently, of the agonies which drove him to make that fatal choice. The pain of those left behind though is visible to all, each fatal choice spreading cruel ripples of pain so that by now there is hardly a family or person in Ireland not so touched. In a remembrance ceremony, his younger brother spoke of all the family moments that he would miss and be missed from, of the sadness that would touch even those joyous occasions as his absence cast its shadow.
“Nor shall he know when loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.”
When someone you admire, as i did, still do, this man, decides that his best choice, the best choice for his loved ones, his family, is to bring an end to his life,
When people and families you love are brought to bottomless tears, to pain-filled confusion by the end of a loved one’s life,
Then an abyss opens up in front of you,
All the firm foundations of your life tremble and shake,
All certainty is sucked away into some dark cortex from which it never fully returns.
When the game is not worth the candle,
When you dedicate you life to perfecting your concentration so that at the moment of death you can say “No, not again”,
Then it should be obvious to all that something is wrong,
My class from secondary school, Benada Abbey as it was then, held a reunion a couple of weeks ago. Some twenty-two of us made it. It was the ten year anniversary of a reunion, ten years which passed through our lives so quickly that it hardly seems possible. There we were ten years older, perhaps a little wiser, perhaps valuing each other a little more, perhaps unchanged in many ways, perhaps having shaken the shackles of our school days a little looser, perhaps a little happier, a little more content, perhaps finally coming to terms with losing that School Cup Final.
And there are always the missing, no date can suit all, no venue. Life goes on, commitments, events, family, work. But about twenty-two wasn’t bad for almost twice that many years. We always remember those who have passed away when we meet again, those who can’t make it, no matter the date or the venue. We added to that list this year, we’d lost a good friend to that final choice, that choice to end choices, since we’d met before. My favourite picture from that earlier reunion has that friend in the background, as he never was in life. Chatting, laughing, smiling, always. And now he’s gone, did we fail him? How did we fail him?
Perhaps we can be optimistic, optimistic even as Francis Ledwidge was in the darkness of his despair, as his friend, Thomas McDonagh, was executed by those wearing the same uniform as the poet himself.
The Dark Cow which is Ireland, Irish society, our society, may yet graze in pleasant meadows.
But it will need our help.
Optimism needs nurturing.
Perhaps that is our calling for the next ten years,
To become a Class Act.
“But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,
And pastures poor with greedy weeds,
Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.”
Be careful with your choices my friends,