The Last Waltz

 It is in our pristine childhood – a time of sublime  existence – that we feel that  we are  made of the mountains and lakes of oceans far and wide: of the winter’s white snow; and the summer’s red sun.

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne in Montreal

 I wondered should I go or should I stay. The band had only one more song to play… ~ Barry Mason and Les Reed 

Recently, someone near and dear died.  Her long life had been tumultuous and regretful to her and regrettable to others closest to her. Her lifestyle had been the subject of censure by some others who may have had genuine cause neither to forgive nor forget the transgressions caused by her conduct on their lives.  Yet, those who surrounded her in her latter days and years  were  beneficiaries of her munificence and spontaneous generosity.  Despite her controversial life, she retained an indomitable spirit to live on and enjoy life in her own way. She may have been out of tune, but she was still singing. That is, until the band had only one more song to play.

There is a certain moral immediacy in our introspection of reprehensibility which is fraught more with emotion than reason. David Hume, one of the more convincing classical positivists argues:

“Take any action allowed to be vicious…  Examine it in all lights and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice.  In whichever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts.  There is no other matter of fact in the case.  The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object.  You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action.  Here is a matter of fact; but, it is the object of feeling, not of reason.”. 

Every so often, we are confronted with death in our lives, one way or another.  From the religious Descartes to the secular Camus, the thought that life is nothing but the preparation for death haunts us, particularly when we transcend the ebullient naivete of youth and enter the saturnine inevitability of middle age, only to be confirmed in the implacable inevitability of old age – that however well we dance, the last waltz will be played at the end.

That being said, to many of us there are two epochs in our lives: before marriage; and after marriage. More often than not, we change drastically after we cross the threshold of childhood innocence and adolescent dependence, into the daunting permanence of adult partnership with another. In the latter stage we subscribe in stentorian terms to the doctrine of Juvenalis “sic volo, sic jubeo” (I want this, I order this).  There are times when something goes terribly wrong. Our sense of entitlement turns into disappointment and criticism.  Habits change. We criticize those from whom we demand life fulfilling satisfaction, whether materially or otherwise.  Unsolicited outsiders enter our lives. Worse still, we beget children who become our ultimate judges.  Ironically, they tend to have just cause in handing down their judgments. No one’s perfect.

Whenever I read an appreciation of a dead person, most of what I hear are what that person did in her adult life. Her contributions to society; her achievements; the positions she held; her kindness and generosity and the grace with which she lived her (adult) life. Yet behind her story could be the unknown period of her childhood  when she danced in the fields; flirted with butterflies; read fairy tales under the shade of elms; walked through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth, through laughter in good times. Then, the doors of heaven were here on earth and they opened at the sound of her footsteps. Wherever she  went, bright angels would have watched over her and kept her from fear,  danger and evil. She may have believed that laughter and joy of simple pleasures would follow through in her in the inevitable journey.   Hidden somewhere, in the elusive recesses of the past, the whole world would have been invigorated by the touch of a butterfly and the splash of a drop of dew. 

It is in our pristine childhood – a time of sublime  existence – that we feel that  we are  made of the mountains and lakes of oceans far and wide: of the winter’s white snow; and the summer’s red sun.  It is then that we have the strength, like the great wind  to shake the roots of the tree of life to the barest twigs. 

But no one cares because they did not know her then and the distant past is buried solid. 

In between our incipient life and the end, if we are fortunate, we would be able to attain our goals in life; reach the position we dreamed of; hiked the Scottish Highlands and visited  the Parthenon, the Colosseum and Eiffel Tower; amassed wealth and brought up children. Your children would love and admire you then.

It is the singular tragedy of life that it does not remain that way all through one’s life. Somewhere down the line we start preparing for death. Life becomes an illusion of gentle faces in cracking mirrors, their images clouded by too many tears. We slip up, make mistakes  and the past becomes an illusion. There are no answers – no good, no evil: only a million promises not kept. There is never a quiet storm or timid typhoon in human strife. And somewhere, a little girl alone and so shy, in the corner of the room waiting for the waltz that would make her dance through the night, is lost in the childhood of her dreams.

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