My Grandmother’s Shadow: Praising The Departed, Loving Those We Have.

I found a little book in one of the drawers of my old desk. Inside, the pages are filled with scribbled thoughts and poems I wrote so long ago that I have forgotten most of them completely. Which is apt, since what I write now is about forgetting.

My grandmother had Parkinson’s disease. She fought for years, but when she finally died, in my early teens, it left within me a feeling of relief. Relief that her suffering was over, but a darker, selfish kind also. I was thankful that I wouldn’t have to confront her again.

For me it had become intolerable to be around her. Parkinson’s is a cruel disease. It robs the sufferer of dignity long before it takes their mind. I couldn’t bear to look upon her shaking hands as she lay in bed, to lean in close and decipher the whispers she tried to communicate with. In my mind the frustration behind her eyes had become annoyance at me. This was when she could still do things. Her disease stripped her of all humanity and made her a thing of revulsion to me.

Years later, my mother (her daughter) would mention things about her and I would stand amazed. When she spoke of Ouma Ria, there was no hint of the creature I remembered. My mother spoke of a woman I didn’t know. Strong, intelligent, playful, loving. I quested back and could find no such memories of her.

My mother spoke of the time we went on a trip and my dad videotaped Ouma Ria giving us sweets against my mother’s instructions. She was looking around conspiratorially for my mother, a smirk on her face, while handing out the contraband to the eager grandchildren.

My mother told me about time spent on Ouma Ria’s lawn, when she’d play with us and we’d laugh. When she took us on trips to the shops, to the seaside. Always, there’d be a light in my mother’s eyes. Love for a woman of stature. For a person who’d fought for what was right, who loved and lived deeply. A woman who instilled a deep respect in everyone she met, because that was simply who she was. And I had been there. I had known her for years.

When my grandmother was buried, I didn’t cry like the others. I had always been a child who fixated on negative things. The last years of her life had given me so much bad to cling to that it had become my complete reality.

We are all like that to some extent. Every day we have the choice before us to focus on aspects of our lives, building our reality from the bricks of our subconscious. I have shrugged off my annoyance at the ceaseless praise heaped upon Mandela after his death, because I have felt the loss of a person’s life again.

It is not a life cut short, but a life that never existed. I didn’t cry at the funeral, but I cry today. I cry for the loss of my grandmother. For the woman she was. For the shell she became. I cry, because I will never know her as I should have, because I was a child too caught up in my own revulsion to treasure what I had had. There is nothing I can do to get her back. I will never revel in the beauty of her life remembered. It is a loss so enormous that it is unfathomable to me.

And now? I will try to live my life in remeberance of all that is good. I will try to revel in the beauty and the love of the people I treasure while they are still here.

Ouma Ria, I wasn’t loyal to the person I knew before the disease. I took for granted all you did, all I hear about. So in tribute to you I say to those who mourn: Sing! Sing of the life of the dead. Celebrate the light of a laudable existence. There will be time to reflect on mistakes later. Now is the time for songs from tear-streaked faces. To mourn the life that is no longer among us, but also to speak of the life lived while it had been.

Lest we forget.


Disconnected: The Tech That Divides Us

The family is five strong. They’ve come out together tonight to eat out. Two parents with their teenagers in tow. While waiters run the gauntlet of service, lovers stare into each other’s eyes, friends laugh, knives clink on porcelain, but in the general hubbub of dinner there is a patch of silence.

Three teenagers are sitting opposite their parents, texting.

As my heart breaks for the lack of relationship between these most intimately connected people, I fish for ways to understand this and it’s like bobbing for piranhas, painfully easy.

We are being conditioned. I have seen it. People unthinkingly answer the beep of their phones like an infant in distress. It’s become a Pavlovian reflex. I’ve had people take their phone out and reply to emails in the middle of a conversation, completely unaware of what they’re doing. We can’t get away from our ever-present connectivity. People text in meetings; at the desk; while reading, drinking coffee, shopping, making breakfast, or having dinner with family. It’s the most subversive of diseases because we never realise what is happening. We are slaves to our devices. At least we’re connecting, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?

Is there truly no difference between a hug and a digital poke? See, we’ve started trading deep connection with a few people for contact with 2000 Facebook friends. We’re inundated in contact, and we can’t keep up.

It’s understandable, really. Electronic communication is safe. You don’t have to invest yourself, you can tailor your responses. It feels like you’re connecting with someone. It’s also easy as hell. But can we be healthy on this diet of fast-food interaction?

Relationships are hard work. They require that you work at finding common ground with another person in a room filled with two people’s baggage. It takes time. It takes patience. It sometimes even leaves marks when the pain has faded. But is this not part of the human condition? Are we becoming existentially skewed?

Sal9000 has married his sweatheart, Nico Nico Douga. She’s everything he’s ever wanted in a woman. She defers to him; changes her appearance to suit his preferences; her personality has even changed to better suit his. She’s also contained on a memory card for a NintendoDS game called Love Plus.

Love Plus is a Japanese sensation. It’s a next level Tamagotchi, teaching guys everywhere that they’re the most important person in the world; that it’s better to have a bump-free relationship with a clever AI program than to slog it out with someone in the real world. Everybody should change to suit us anyway, shouldn’t they?

Technology is dividing us by offering us contact without boundaries. Contact we’ve never had before. Whether it’s the multitudes clamouring for our attention or the inward turn toward digitally encouraged narcissism, we are losing touch with what it means to connect with others. It’s even making us lose contact with ourselves.

I don’t fear for myself. I fear for the younger generation which is growing up knowing nothing else. I ache for the children at the dinner table, sitting so close to something immensely beautiful and fulfilling, and choosing something else. We are herd animals. It is not good for man to be alone, but we are growing more and more distant from the real, untruncated contact that has characterised humanity for as long as it has existed.

Now we are defined by a list of likes and dislike on a web page. Our identities were never as easy to define as that, were they? It’s personality through consumption, and it scares the hell out of me.

People will always disappoint us. Our loved ones will hurt us. Relationships will always be hard. If we keep choosing the easy path, how will we ever realise that all of this is worth it? If we don’t ever have to put the effort in, how will we know how much it pays off? How will we know love? For we are all the sum of our contradictions and love encompasses even that.

Sometimes the tar road is necessary and good, but if we never stray from its simplicity we won’t know the wonder of the forest path, of cresting a mountain and seeing the unspoilt world stretched out before us.

And us humans, we were built for wonder.

I’d like to mention this article for helping give form to the nebulousness of my thoughts:

Read it. It makes some very good points.