Saturday, May 8, 2010

Choosing between Life and Death

Summary of the talk given at the second annual memorial of my son, Vineeth, on May 7, 2010.
We all know that life is a journey. We move on in this journey by making choices at every point. We choose what to eat, what to dress, who to call, where to go, and what to do every moment in our life. We may broadly classify our choices into two as Jesus did: of life and death. For example, eating healthy food is a choice of life, but eating junk food is a choice of death. It is not easy to make such a neat classification all the time; we have to make a choice based on the situation using our best judgment. All choices are not of the same importance. Some choices are far more important than others because they have far-reaching consequences or because they are irreversible. Choosing the major subject of study in college is a choice of importance because it determines the career you will choose later on. Choosing your spouse is much more important because for most of the people it is a once-in-a-life-time choice and it is generally irreversible.

But the most important choice anyone can make is a choice to end our very journey of life. It is a once-in-a-life-time choice and it is irreversible. However this choice to end our life can also be classified into two: of life and death. When some people choose to end their life, it is a choice of life, but for some others, it is a choice of death. Let me briefly explain what I mean by this statement.

There is a very touching scene in the Movie of “Gandhi”. The scene was in Calcutta immediately after India got independence. A bloody racial violence was raging in the streets of Calcutta. In this specific scene, we see two men choosing to end their lives. For one, it was a choice of life, but for the other it was of death. At the beginning of the scene we see Gandhi lying down on a bed. He is very weak. He can’t get up or even speak. He has not been eating anything for a month. All that he was consuming was water with a drop of lemon juice. He was slowly approaching the end of his journey of life. This man chose to end his life because he couldn’t stand the bloody violence raging in the streets of Calcutta. He didn’t see his own life as of more worth than that of the hundreds falling dead each day. He chose to end the journey of his life, but it was a choice of life. It was a self-sacrifice for the well-being of the humanity.

Then we see another man choosing to end his journey of life. He lost his children, who were murdered by the extremists in the other race. When he lost his children, life was no more the same for him. Life suddenly became meaningless. He had a mixture of very strong feelings of sadness and anger raging through his mind. What were his options now? The most obvious way he saw ahead of him was the way of death. He took a strong sharp dagger and rushed to the street. He was intending to kill some people of the other race. And then? Most probably he will be killed in the streets, or if he manages to survive, he will end up taking his own life. It was definitely the path of death—for himself and for others. He couldn’t see any other way. He was expected by the society around to take an eye for an eye, a life for a life. He probably was going to kill a few children in return for the lives of his own children.

We were not born by our choice; and we should not die by our choice either. In other words, our entry to the world was not by our choice, and our leaving should not be by our choice either. In some circumstances, one chooses to die by one’s own will, which is, to discontinue the journey of life. In such situations, most of the people choose to stop the journey not because of their own sincere wish and choice but because they submit themselves to the expectation of the community around them. It is not easy in such situations to ignore the expectation of the community around, and to choose to continue the journey of life.

When he was out in the street with a sharp dagger in his hand, he decided to go see Mahatma Gandhi, who was having a fast-until-death in a nearby house. This man probably wanted to justify his action to the Mahatma. While the Mahatma was lying on a bed unable even to speak, this man enters the room with the dagger in his hand as if he is going to kill the Mahatma. Without any greeting, introduction, or formality, he utters in a rough voice: They killed my children, and I am going to kill theirs. He just wanted to let the Mahatma know the only option he could see ahead of him. Hearing this, the Mahatma in a very feeble voice responded: You will see in the streets a lot of children who lost their parents. Please adopt some of them and bring them up as your own children. That was a revelation to that man. Gandhi was showing him a narrow way which is usually unnoticed by most of the people. But that is the way of life. Choosing the way of life is not easy; it requires a very strong will—the will to swim against the tide, the will to stand apart from the majority.

Jesus Christ referred to the two ways in life: one of life and the other of death. He also observed that the majority of people choose the highway of death rather than the narrow way of life. Why do the majority choose death rather than life? Because the way of death is much more visible than the way of life. The way of death is what immediately catches our attention because it is very wide, and most of the people choose that way. It is the socially acceptable way. The way of life is too narrow to catch our attention, and it is not socially acceptable.

I want to bring before you another example of this. Sati was practiced in India until recently. When a man dies, his wife was expected to end her own life by jumping into the pyre. It was a forced suicide. She was expected by the community around her to end her life. Even if she wanted to continue to live, she didn’t have an option.

A couple of years ago our only child passed away. He did it by his own choice. He was not doing it to satisfy the society around him. He was not doing it according to the expectation of the people around. For him it was probably a choice of life because existence was miserable for him.

When this happened, the world around us was watching us to see what we would do. If we ended our lives along with him, what would have been the reaction of those who heard the news? Well, that is natural. The parents committed suicide because life became meaningless to them, and because they couldn’t bear the pain of the loss. If the parents do not die along with the child, then what can happen? The parents may lose their sanity, and may live a life as if they are dead. But in our case, we are still alive even after two years because we decided to live on. Also we are fully sane. We are living a normal life like everybody else. We go to work, we eat food, we sleep, and we do everything else that people normally do. This is not what the world around us expects us to do. Several people who work with us thought that we might not come back to work after the passing of our son. Many of them didn’t think that we would return from India. Even if we returned, some of them couldn’t imagine we could resume our normal life by going to work. That we are able to lead a normal life doesn’t look natural to a lot of people. They wonder why we don’t fall apart after we were struck by the catastrophic event. The reason is this: We chose to continue to live. We chose the narrow way. We didn’t want to please the crowd by choosing the highway of death.
Listen to my original talk in Malayalam


Joanne Olivieri said...

It is so true that each moment is a choice. We all have choices and we all need to choose based on our own circumstances and intuitions. Your son leaving this earth as he did was his choice as a result of his circumstances, though tragic it was his choice. As parents you have to choose was is right for you. Others can judge and expect from you what they think is right but only you know what is right for you.

I enjoyed your post.

John Kunnathu said...

Thank you very much, Ms. Shuttterbug. It really makes sense. Your comment is packed with wisdom I am craving for now.

Jomon said...

I simply thanks the Big Hug u have given me on the day of my Dad's funeral.. That was a big relief to my worries... When I look back to my life, I felt now I am an orphan as I lost my Mother and Father .. But after reading this article of yours there are a lot to parents in this world who are suffering and who don't have resources. Now my view has changed ... There are a lot of children who lost their parents in childhood.. In a way I am fortunate as I could see my parents up to my age of 30.. Thank God !!!.. Keep writing.. God Bless !!

Anonymous said...

I admire the way you can discuss your son's death and your life after it. So many people just fall to pieces after an event of that kind.