The heart of the matter

Death is something I’ve never really talked or written about, mainly because I’ve never been very sure how to address it. I was raised to rein in any and all public displays of emotion, because I was always told that any sign of emotion is a show of weakness, so I learned to keep my feelings in check and only deal with them when I’m alone — or in the shower.

But yesterday’s coverage on the return of the victims’ remains from Flight MH17 struck a weird chord in me. I never liked thinking or talking about death because when I do, I only ever wonder what the victims — be they of a car crash or a plane crash or a sinking ship — were thinking and doing in their final moments. That, in turn, makes it morbid and totally inappropriate for me to be talking about death.

A few years ago, I dreamt that I was drowning, and it was so vivid that when it woke me up, I was disoriented enough to flail around thinking I had broken the water’s surface. And when I realized it had all been a dream, I was relieved primarily because I knew I had not died without telling the people who mattered to me how I felt about them, and I spent the next few days writing down everything I wanted to say to each person in individual, personalized letters.

Before you marvel at my diligence, I should point out that there really weren’t that many people to write to, and I didn’t have a great number of things to say to some as I did to others.

Now, as I work towards a brand new chapter in my life that will (hopefully, with all extremities crossed) come within the next year and a half, I realize that there are many people with whom I will have to find some sort of closure eventually. I can count on both hands the number of people with whom I have unresolved issues, and on one hand the number of people I would want to keep in my life when that new chapter dawns.

It makes me wonder, what makes it so difficult for us to say all the things we need to say in order to move on? Is it our pride against not wanting to be the first to admit defeat and apologize, or our fear that even if we did say whatever we need to say, nothing will change and the other person would still hold a grudge against us? We may not be able to forget the things that people have said and done to us, but is it really so impossible to forgive? Is it really that much better to live with the anger, the bitterness and the resentment, than to live without the people who at one point seemed to matter so much to us?

People make mistakes, people may not know what to do sometimes, but that is just human nature. But we look past all that and accept them just the way they are, because not to do so would mean that we can’t forgive them for being themselves instead of what we want them to be. It can’t always be all about us — what we think, what we feel, what we want. Sometimes we have to put ourselves aside and understand that this is how they are and know that we can accept them for it. And it’s only when we forgive — ourselves and/or them — that we can move on, with or without them.


I’ve been learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
And all the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak, and my heart is so shattered
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if you don’t love me anymore

– India.Arie/Don Henley, The Heart Of The Matter –

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do still have those letters.

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