Subterranean Lights

“You and all your subterranean lights — may they make the world shine, even as they dim and fade. May they light up the world from the inside, like the earth has swallowed a star that won’t burn out.”

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Art by : Hajin Bae

When people die, we light candles to remember them.

To bring a light to the darkness now that they are no longer able to. When someone dies, I wonder how many more lights go out, how many unknown worlds living under their skin are submerged in an eternal darkness, extinguished. Mourning, grief, they feel like a power cut all throughout the city. Like the spark of electricity has stopped flowing, no longer sizzling with life, leaving us individually in our own rooms, our own houses, stranded in the dark. Reaching out in the dark, hands closing around emptiness.

Because when even one light goes out, all of our collective lights shine the dimmer. It may not be apparent all across the complex networks, the bundles of lights that can be seen from space, but there is always a gap. Which is why night rides always make me so wistful, you know. Looking at the city lights, at what every single one of them represents. Life, rising above the night. Light, when even the sun does not shine.

In grief, what comes to my mind first is somehow, always, always, this : “Where is all that light that used to animate your body? Where are the stars in your eyes?” And the thoughts that were like pulsating lights under your skin? How many more worlds slumber now in the darkness, how many more worlds were there that I will never explore? You and all your subterranean lights — may they make the world shine, even as they dim and fade. May they light up the world from the inside, like the earth has swallowed a star that won’t burn out.

But good things can come from the darkness. Sometimes, when we reach out, we find another hand is reaching out, too. And we can hold on to each other until the light arrives, again. It makes us talk, pop our heads out of the window and ask the neighbours if the light has gone out at their place, too. 

“Do you have candles we can light ? I have matches.”  

We can light them together, and share stories until the light arrives, until the light arrives. We do not have to be alone, lonely in the dark.

And I wonder, when we kindle all these candles for the dead, to light up the darkness — do we, do we look like stars to the stars ?

From space, where we are only networks of light, constellations ( This one here is China, and this one is Australia, this is…) does it look, to the stars that came before us, that we did not change so much after all ? And, did you notice ? Much like stars, our individual lights blaze long after we’ve died, because others carry it with them, like a torch, a light of remembrance.

And when one light goes out, how beautiful it is that we pour in our own strength, like a red candle held in one hand lighting another, and say that no matter how overwhelming the darkness, no matter how deep the grief, this star won’t go out ?


Note : Life has its own ways. This was something I wrote on Thursday, a week back, as a general reflection on grief, death and mourning. On Friday, however, I received some news. Saturday, I went to a funeral. And this became too relevant. So now, here it is.

Hey, remember when?

“For a while, all memories of you were dyed in pain. It always stung, always hurt. At times, it would sit on me like a boulder, this grief, and I would consider the weight on my chest, and like anyone with a boulder on their chest, I would ask myself if it was really happening. “

Lights
Art by: Unknown Artist

I remember you.

I remember the way you used to talk, the way you used to laugh.
And this is new.

For a while, all memories of you were dyed in pain. It always stung, always hurt. At times, it would sit on me like a boulder, this grief, and I would consider the weight on my chest, and like anyone with a boulder on their chest, I would ask myself if it was really happening. Other times, it would be just a pinch, some sharp pain that faded fast. But I would keep rubbing the phantom ache away, not having anyone to glare at for causing it.

Today, there was nothing of that.

Today, I made a joke about how you’d react to my brother’s new haircut.
I spoke as if I were you.
I laughed with all the others who knew you afterwards.

I think the pain from all those times, it was from thinking that your memory would die, too. Like I’d lose everything of you, not just your sarcasm or your kind eyes, but the warmth when I think of you, too. I thought because it hurt so much to have you taken from me, that everything good goes away one day.

But today, I spoke as if I were you.

You see, before, I grieved you.

Now, now, I remember you.

And in the midst of all the emptiness you left behind, that is the sweetest difference.

 

The grief in her eyes

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Art by: Maria Ngyuen

If Grief is a look, then I saw it in the eyes of someone not much older than I today. And it was only a flashing moment, only in the slight squinting of eyes against the harsh sunlight did I see the mark of Grief painted there. She sat, leaning into the hard seats of the moving train, her eyes closed, as if nursing the pain that had been gathering for 3 years now.

3 years. That’s what her arm tells me. 1967-2014 and a few birds flying away into freedom. I could not catch the name written across her skin, but I have a feeling it is something in between “Mon Coeur” and “Mon Amour“. My heart, or My love.

The dulled tingle of Grief awakes again now. I imagine how it must have been, 3 years ago. I imagine the shock, the disbelief.

Then plummeting into reality, crashing into the overwhelming truth and thinking that you did not sign up for this. This wasn’t meant to happen. It is a breach of all human laws and of all fairness, all decency — and the person you have known and loved all your life, the person you have not had time to cherish yet, is “no more”.

But what does “no more” mean when they have never existed more wholeheartedly for you than in that moment?

But I, 3 years ago, I was probably stressing out about an assignment. 3 years ago while she cried, I was probably binge-watching some show. The day she went to get her skin inked, I was probably lying in bed, quietly contemplating the meaning of my existence at unruly hours, my gaze shifting to the stars for guidance. It always baffles me how your world can change and turn on all its axes three times over in a day without it ever meaning anything to anyone else. To others, it’s just a regular Tuesday that will soon be lost in a sea of everydays, gasping for breath in the foam of memories and ultimately sinking into nothingness.

How strange a thing it is, to exist.

How much stranger it is to be when Grief claims you. When all of the sudden, there is all this love that has nowhere to go. All those ‘Be careful’s, ‘Have a good day’s and ‘See you tomorrow’s that have no place to be. So you keep them in, you close the lid. You close your eyes one day in the stuffed train and let the world be.

3 years is a lot of time for anything. But not for Grief.

 

 

The Monster, Death (Short Story Part I)

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Artist Sadly Unknown

He had sought it out earlier than most.

At 16, he was calling upon its name, the one word leaving his lips in a painful howl.

It met him then, tearful and grieving as he was, and the sight of it, more than its sudden appearance stunned him into terrified silence. He had expected a monster with bloody fangs, the foul stench of dead bodies permeating its coat of black. He had recoiled, merely imagining the merciless bead-like eyes, hungry to witness yet another slaughter.

But the real thing was so much more terrifying. It was eerie and…beautiful, though he could not see its face. It was clothed in flowing robes of white to which clung a light, sticky coat of dust and grit. It advanced with grace and not murderous intent, as though it could not walk but only fly.

He stared, still stunned at this ethereal entity that could only be Death.

And though its cloak, like a veil on its face, betrayed nothing of what might lie beneath, he could still feel its strong, binding gaze on him.

Death remained still, waiting as if.

And that was when the reality of it all came crashing down on him. Here was Death, this murderer, standing before him, all dressed in white.

“My friend! My friend! You—you murdered him!” he bellowed, his shaking finger pointing at the white, otherworldly figure.

Tears stung his eyes once more, and the pain in his chest returned tenfold.

There was Death, standing before him, its robes of white billowing around like the very air around him was sacred. And his friend, his friend laid in the earth, buried under the ground, never to surface again.

The thought of it, of his friend’s lively face now…dead, now covered in dirt sent his heart beating to a mad rhythm. His eyes screwed shut in spite of his desperate attempts to keep them open, for fear of Death that was still, he felt it, gazing into his very soul.

As he gasped for breath and struggled to open his eyes, a smell of dirt and smoke hit his nose. The air around him grew colder and suddenly, something glacial and wisp-like pressed against his forehead.

As his head fell back into the darkness, he could recall only one thing.

A voice, clear and pure, unlike any he had heard before, uttering words he would never forget:

“Many die of broken hearts.”