Typing the first words of this blog after a half-year of deathly silence, I am quite sure this post will be the most morbid one yet. But then again, that may be a good thing. One of modern society's greatest problems, it was once said, is that we live away from death too much. And it makes perfect sense, if you think about it. If someone close to you personally dies – let's say a friend or a relative – of course you would feel the emotional impact of his/her demise. But would your neighbors or friends be impacted the same way you are? Not anymore, sadly.
Gone are the days when the village would kick into action when a person dies – to arrange the funeral, to bury the remains…and to comfort the bereaved family. Today, the process of Death is becoming more like an industry, where faceless undertakers and coffin-makers look at bodies as sources of dollars instead of former vessels of souls. The living, meanwhile, operate in a parallel world, separate from all this – working hard and partying hard. The only contact a "modern, civilized person" would have with Death is during the occasional funeral service, visit to the grave, and the time when he himself is six feet under.
Sigh. Told you this will be morbid…
Anyway, the reason for all this morbidity is that I have had quite a few brushes with death this week. No, not the "life-threatening-injury-caused by-horrific-accident" type of brush with death. Rather, one of those brushes with death was when I sat around a graveyard on Tuesday night with a group of friends. While sitting around the grave, the tombstone not more than a feet away from our faces and a dead body 6 feet (more or less) below us, we discussed about life in the grave...
At this point, I must make this clear: this was not a Satan worshipping ceremony or anything like that. It was actually a college activity, in which my college-mates and I visited a nearby graveyard. The visit was meant to raise our awareness of Death…but frankly, I had little need for such a reminder. Death was already on my mind all day.
This was because of my first brush with Death, which occurred the morning of that visit. I received news that a teacher of mine, a man whom I was quite well-acquainted to, has passed away. His name was Mr. G. Gunaseelan, but he was often referred to simply as Mr. G. He was an unusual character, in comparison with the other teachers of my college. For one thing, he was quite old…he would have retired this year. In all honesty, he was even quite frail due to a few accidents in the past.
Yet, his death, to me, came as a total shock. Yes, he was frail. But to have left us so suddenly…? It's still sinking in now.
Sadly, I wasn't very close to Mr. G. He was the "mentor" of half my class - in charge of us students' performance, academically and psychologically – in short, well, to mentor us. I still remember my group's first "mentor-mentee" session with Mr. G. It was quite memorable, as Mr. G struck us as an eccentric man. Lively despite his obvious frailty, he shared with us the rigors of life as a college student. In all honesty, we really wanted to end the session ASAP because, well, we were hungry (the meeting was before lunch). But if we had known he would pass away less than a year later, we would have paid more attention.
We rarely met him, although we were supposed to have a mentor-mentee session every week. Mr. G always seemed to be absent, sometimes off to a hospital. Other times, he would simply say that we should not meet because he "did not want to tell us things we already know" or something along those lines. Still, he always had a smile on him whenever I met him on the corridor, and would confide in me about a certain ache around his body or a recent accident he had faced.
Like I said, we didn't get to know him well enough.
The last time we met him was earlier this year, during the Teacher's Day celebrations of my college. He had just had his hand bitten by his pet dog, and it was bandaged. Knowing he would retire in a few months' time, we had prepared a yellow balloon for him to pop. The balloon represented his eventful career, and popping it was meant to show that he would go out with a bang. He was visibly touched, and generously shared with us tales of his teaching career. After the meal, I managed to give him a hug and a handshake.
We hadn't known him well enough…neither did we know that it would be the last time we would see him.
Mr. G, it saddens me that you did not get to enjoy your retirement before you left this world. But listening to your colorful stories, I find it fitting that you have died as a teacher (and a good one, too), as you had lived as one. We had known you all too briefly, but your passing has taught me to appreciate those still alive around me even more. Although you are now "horizontally meditating" in the hereafter, you will live on in our memory. Rest In Peace, sir.
P.s. Here is a blog post by someone who had known Mr. G better than I did: http://angchoonseong.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-have-many-good-teachers-in-my-life.html