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Saturday, December 18, 2010

We'll Start With Death



Not exactly the greatest opener, I know, but it's been on my mind a bit recently and it's relevant to the title of this blog.

The title comes from a quote by Mr. Isaac Asimov (he of "I, Robot," fame, and I mean the very good story, not the questionable Will Smith film), in which he says, "If my doctor told me I only had six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster."  I think that's fairly good advice whether you're a writer or not.  We've only got so much time here, and we should use it doing what we love.  For me it's writing and learning about new things.

This point has recently been brought home in a very immediate way for me.  As of this writing, I live and work in Ulsan, South Korea.  A man I work with, Tom, died yesterday.  H was a good man: helpful and generous, if rough around the edges and prone to excessive, colorful language.  The last words I said to him were, "Have a good night Tom, see you tomorrow."

Now, Tom's gone.  I attended a sort of funeral service for him today in the depths of a Korean hospital.  There was a room I walked into after removing my shoes, lined with tables where food and drink had been laid out.  At one end of the room was a large alcove.  The alcove had been filled with flowers, cigarettes, books, a pair of Tom's glasses, letters from students, and in the center, a picture of Tom with a black ribbon across the top.

I'd only known Tom for six weeks, but that was long enough to make me sad that I wouldn't know him for any longer.  Tom's family sent a eulogy via e-mail from England.  But Korean funerals don't work like western ones, where everybody is assembled at once.  People come and go throughout the day, while the immediate family (or in this case, Tom's close friend) stay.  Sometimes, they even spend the night.

So I was handed Tom's eulogy to read: a man's life in summation on two pages of 8 x 11 paper.  It sounded like a good one.  Tom traveled all over the world, had an extended family, and a global community of friends.  It got me thinking about my life, and of course, my own mortality.  We (myself and other teachers and friends) talked about Tom, and laughed a lot, listened to stories about the old man and laughed some more.

I'm at home now (my cheesy, studio apartment where the bathroom sink doubles as the shower), and getting ready to go meet some people for a Christmas party.  After that, I'm going to visit some other friends at a pub, and we're going to drink, and eat and hopefully have a good time and get stared at by Korean for being a bunch of crazy waeguks.  And then I'm going to come back home, and try to type like I've got six minutes left.

I'm aware that this isn't the most uplifting beginning, but life (one of the many potential subjects of this blog), isn't always about the nice things.  Sometimes (and when I'm feeling pessimistic I'd say most times) life is about the things that suck and make you want to go back to bed.  Yesterday sucked.  Today was sad, but a little better.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be better than that.  We'll see.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Justin--visiting from Verla's...I think I prefer the way the Koreans do funerals--I like being able to come in on your own time and not necessarily with crowds of other people, when you can actually think about the person and say good-bye to them in your own way.

    I'm glad you started blogging!

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