This is a reflective and introspective piece that explores the themes of moving on, death, beauty, relationships, and the power of coming together. The author shares personal experiences and observations while contemplating the meaning of life and the significance of memories.
This is the year (2023) of moving, moving in all senses, emotions, and directions. Moving in cinematic motions, mental pictures of sentimental values captured in that light keep reeling in the mind. And I am reeling from all the sailing but I am hoping that I could do some writing on something about moving. I stand witness to several death of known people; figuratively and literally. I stood there as a friend close to my soul, watching her father being lowered to his grave. I watched as unconditional love was wasted and dying on someone, who never believed in the damn thing, and there is also the death of a long-standing friendship that slipped into being strangers. Though I stood witness to all these, yet I confess I know nothing of its meaning. However, this triggers a train of thoughts into motion which, if the readers would kindly allow, I would like to map out on these pages with phrases about the task of moving after the screen flashes “The End”. (Yes, there is the task of moving after an end).
Moving on seems simpler when you sit under an automobile. But what about circumnavigating a stormy mind? There is something about the aftermath of death. Wake up to the world around you, standing under the same sky, burnt by the same sun and washed by the same rain, yet nothing seems the same. Then, the anger burns in the temple, like a strong spirit down the throat, haunting the days. Then, the world around morphs into an ennui life filled with uneventful days. Sometimes debris of memories of happy days come flooding in with the tears, and in the next hour, life seems to be so useless and like a faded painting, no longer reverberating with its vibrant colors. It’s all gray now with smudges of yellow and blue, nothing left but a memory of a beautiful day. So how do we move on from such beauty that once was? Maybe one way is to desire again and begin to desire beauty again.
Flowers at the funeral or the death ceremony; why beauty amidst such misfortune? The spirituality infused in flowers has lingered on from across time and culture. The earliest evidence we have of flowers used in funerals is from the Paleolithic period. Researchers have identified flower pollens on the remains, leading them to speculate that this could be the very first flower burial 0r the death grounds. We can also understand this delicate botanical aestheticism as the symbol of life and the fragility of the mortal coil. Beyond love and sympathy, they also emanate eternity and immortality. Flowers at the funeral can have multiple dimensions and meanings to it. Flowers are an integral aspect of funerals or death ceremonies as we know them today and one may question why. For when events are so despondent, why do we have something so beautiful?
Most religions preach about relinquishing our earthly desire to be happy. But isn’t it desire that drives us to create, to destroy, to love, to hate, to live, and to be in-joy in life? Philosopher Danto once wisely theorized beauty as a catalyst for transforming raw grief into tranquil sadness. Sartwell’s reflections on beauty’s relationship to suffering and loss follow a similar trajectory, stating that beauty reminds us to desire and desire we must keep living. The flowers remind us to reawaken into desire. The funeral, in its ceremonial beauty and dignity, enables our suffering and also intends to return us to life. It reminds us that we must start desiring again or relinquish the world. Though I admit neither love nor beauty can spare us from suffering, nevertheless I feel they possess the potential to restore our brokenness into wholeness. To quote Ts Eliot
“Mixing memory and desire stirring
dull roots with spring rain”
“People are all we’ve got ” said Fleabag. For all the vices humanity has engineered throughout time and space, it is a strange miracle that humans still possess beauty, and it lies between people’s relationships and compassion. Typically when the year draws to an end, here in the Naga hills (like everywhere else), people come together, and like the year before, people sing about the year’s passing with joy, reminiscence, and hope to leap into a hopeful new year. It strikes me like a match, the beauty, respite, and hope that songs and people coming together has to offer. In true morbid fashion, it reminds me of how the Naga people come together and sing songs at wakes.
The Nagas are tribal people occupying the Northeast of India. As scholar Kunkungo puts it ‘Until fairly recently, the Nagas were feared as ferocious headhunters. The Nagas are one of the most studied communities in India. However, most of the work on them starts and ends with the practice of headhunting, and in the recent past, has also focused on their colourful dresses”. This leads to the neglect of important facets of their culture. Here I would like to highlight an aspect of the beauty of this tribal group.
You see when a member of the society dies, people from church come together and sing throughout the night at wakes, the sound of the church choir oscillating the room with the coffin at the center, offering a sonic embrace to the bereaved. You see, songs have a constant sense of providing spiritual support, a quest for strength; the song is a warm hand on a troubling heart. This is the beauty of the tribals, it’s the kindred sense, and this is highlighted even more in times of crises, like a warm glowing ember in a dark cold room. And the group singing at a funeral is a warm testament to that because when the group sings that mournful song, it stretches out their compassion, providing strength by using the magical power of the music and the musical speech, of the song.
Years ago a friend of mine introduced me to Yoko Ono’s art, titled Wish Piece (1996)– it had the following instructions: “Make a wish. Write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree. Ask your friends to do the same. Keep wishing. Until the branches are covered with wishes.” The idea here is simple, that when people come together the wishes are more potent. One can argue about its validity, but the idea that when people come together there is beauty and strength is an endearing ideal to pursue. So, I’ll proclaim! United we will mourn; there will always be a hand on your shoulder when those tears reminiscing of the past gleam down that sad face. Be it in dead or terrible breakups, it’s the relationship with others that will restore the assurance to move on. When the play ends and the stage goes dark, together, we will beg the bard to write us a new song of hope, hope to desire beauty, and life again.
So yes, moving on is simpler in an automobile, something like the dots of gathered dust on the car. A battered heart once caught on that swaying breeze, now settled on a traveler’s car by the highway. Perhaps I am moving for the sake of moving, with the hope that maybe this step will lead me to that, and that step will lead me to there, and from there it will lead me somewhere; anywhere, far from where I started. As I rush to push this piece to an end, I have Lana Del Rey on my headphones singing, “When you leave, all you take is your memories, and I am gonna take mine of you with me.” As cliche as it sounds, it does give a sense of comfort, some kind of closure. The gentle feeling of assurance, hope, and life encapsulated in those bittersweet memories is and will have to be a reminder that’s worth living. At the end of any relationship, memories are all we are left with. But as the science men use says, nothing truly really dies, it just transforms. Perhaps in the coming days, I’ll ponder about memories, but for now, this is what is on my mind about moving after the eventual end. So, loaded with memories and a desire to transpire this life into something memorable (at least for my close circle), you and I will have to try to march on.
As always, wish you a good life and a good death.
Your morbid friend.
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Akumtong Longkumer is a research scholar at the department of History, NEHU. He has an eye for the morbid and tries to approach it with a sense humor. His writings has recently been published in Homegrow :Anthology Of New Writings From Nagaland. He advocates for 'death positivity' and believes that we as a culture should start the dialogue around death and dying.