Friday, September 26, 2008

26 Sep 1181 - Birthday of Francis of Assisi

Today is the birthday of Francis of Assisi.
As a teen, I read books about him. Biographies (particularly enjoying the book by Omer Englebert). The translation of the original "little flowers". Nikos Kazantzakis' amazing book on the life of Francis - the best of the lot, a lyrical, strange, tormented and yet beautiful account of the craziness of the little friar. I discovered John Michael Talbot's music because he was a Franciscan. I remember little of the time I watched the Franco Zeffirelli film "Brother Sun and Sister Moon" - coming after reading Kazantzakis, it did not leave much in my memory. Until finding video extracts from the film on YouTube, I did not realse that Donovan had contributed songs.

The video is embedded here - but if it does not play well for you (which is often the case with YouTube videos for me), download it and view using a FLV player. For downloading, I use DownloadHelper (an addon for Firefox), and GOM player for playback.

I liked Francis for his simplicity, his love of animals, his love of nature. The world needed him back in the 12th century. It still needs him today.

And tying nicely into the recent post, where I write about Death, sister of Dream (Morpheus) of the Endless in the Sandman series, is one of the verses from Francis' "Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon":
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Say Goodbye - often and well

Just a week ago, we said goodbye to JenMei at the International Students Centre in the north-west corner of the extensive Stanford University campus. She was with her fellow international students, and we had a flight to catch. It was difficult and painful.

Goodbye and Hello are two sides of the same coin. With creation of the new comes destruction of the old. Sometimes it's the other way around.

In my previous post, El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle are one and the same. Gaiman's Death is the most lovely person one can hope to meet in one's lifetime.  More alive than any living being I know.  

I'm sure it's a healthy thing to say goodbye often.
Goodbye to things. (we travel lighter, and better appreciate what's most important in life)
Goodbye to ideas. (we free up space for fresh insights)
Goodbye to people. (we appreciate them better)

A few years back, I read a book by Karen Kingston about clutter removal and space clearing. Her theory is that physical clutter impedes the flow of energies which result in a sickening of the environment. Clutter is an outward sign that deep inside, we feel a sense of lack, and this sense of lacking draws into our lives more lack. Letting go means we are confident of the future, that we will be provided with what we need and is most important. I have discarded or given away so many of my old things since then.

I did a big round of clearing this weekend - two rooms have completely different furniture arrangements now, and lots of new storage space is freed up, and things that were scattered about nicely put away.

There's much more stuff to let go of, but that's easy, compared to saying goodbye to JenMei on that Stanford lawn 7 evenings ago.

Memorable Death Scenes from Great Stories

Odd title. Morbid sounding.

I stumbled upon an adaption of several (too few) of Oscar Wilde's brilliant short stories by P Craig Russel in the National Library yesterday. One of the stories was "The Selfish Giant". Glancing through, I was reminded of the beauty of the story I'd read as my teenage years were slipping away, the last few drops of youthful idealism evaporating in the blazing heat of grownupness.

The boy who brings about the Giant's conversion, who the Giant waits many years for while allowing the children to overrun his garden, reappears and bears marks of the stigmata. The Giant, now old, is angered and threatens harm on those who wounded the boy. The idea of paradise being like a garden is so appropriate for this story.

Unfortunately, "the Happy Prince" was not among the stories in the library books. There is a scene at the end of the story, where after the swallow has died from exhaustion and the cold and the heart of the Prince/Statue breaks from sorrow, the mayor and his entourage condemn the sight of the dead bird and the scruffy statue, and have them thrown with the rubbish, into the furnace. As in the story of the Selfish Giant, the heroes of the story are rewarded with paradise for the good work they anonymously did, for the love they showed each other.

The earliest of memorable literary death scenes that I can recall clearly is the ending from Watership Down (written by Richard Adams). Hazel has grown old, the warren is doing well, and it's a beautiful day in the English countryside. El-ahrairah appears to him, and invites Hazel to join him in a better place. It's clear to us that El-Ahrairah, portrayed earlier as the legendary hero, the prince with a thousand enemies, is also the Black Rabbit of Inle, a being who seemed an enemy to be feared and avoided. Hazel notices how tired his old body feels, leaves it behind, and finds himself with new strength and leaps into the sky with the black rabbit.

Death, the delightful lass from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, is first introduced in a story titled "the sound of her wings". The story exudes Mary Poppins - with the reference to "feed the birds", and the location she meets with Morpheus in. In the story, Death brings dream along with her on her rounds - when she takes people of varied shapes, sizes, faiths. Two are memorable. The baby who asks "is this all I get"? And the elderly man, recalling the prayers of his jewish faith to be recited at the end of his life. "The High Cost of Living" mini-series was another brilliant story revolving around Death - there's again a sense of Mary Poppins, wide-eyed innocence, and the idea that life is really a treasure and death helps us realise it's worth. After Morpheus' life is taken by Death at the end of "The Kindly Ones" story arc, a new arc titled "The Wake" begins - and is amazingly wonderful as a read - pulling back ideas and characters from the earlier issues. I dare say such richness of storytelling around the idea of death, with few macabre aspects, will be hard to find elsewhere.

The Sandman story arcs were good and are an unqualified must-read. But the standalone stories are often superior. In one, Facade, Death comes at the end for a metamorph - who's led her life in seclusion and misery, and delivers this memorable quote which is apparently based on something Terry Prachet wrote:

"When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I'll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave."

Back in my army days, the call for Lights Out could be a blessing - when the work was done after a long hard day and one was dying for sleep in a clean bed...... or a curse - when there was much left to be done in preparation for exercises or inspections the following day.

When death comes calling, some don't want to leave. Others are pleased and relieved. It all depends on how one has lived one's live in each moment of now. Give me pleased and relieved any day.