On Puzzles and some more of Life's Games...

I was not going to talk about that. Did not want to go there. Did not feel the heart to go there.
However, a two-minute conversation with my 10-year old daughter brought me back on track and made me realize that this conflict I will "analyze" here, is the one important and life transforming conflict of my life.
Looking for other subjects to talk about, I decided to ask my daughters about the assignment in the hope of getting some fresher ideas from them. I proceeded to explain to them the exact question of the paper: write about a conflict that was life transforming.
It did not take my eldest a split second to jump and shout: "I know! I know what you can write about! You can write about Daddy's death and how it has completely changed your life and how you've all of a sudden had to do all sorts of things daddy used to do and how you were very sad." All in one same breath. All my life for the past three years in less than 2 seconds. All my on-going conflicts spilled out in such a simple, plain and candid way. The sheer horror of it all lashing out at me.
So here I am, writing about the inner/outer conflict, which essentially comes down to Life against Death, or Death against Life. How does one live with both? Can one live with both? Should one die for both, for surely one should not live for both? How does one associate or disassociate the two? How much space can one give Death in his/her Life? How does one honour the memories of cherished ones without letting those very memories overburden and take control of Life? How can one still cherish Life itself while at the same time wishing to be nowhere else but with the lost ones?

The bottom line, I suppose, boils down to: how does one make Peace with Death, without surrendering to it, without beating it and without disregarding it? How does one communicate with Death in order to reach an understanding that will satisfy… who? Both parties?
How does one move the Life and Death duel onto a constructive path, which will lead to positive transformation, as opposed to bending over to violence and destruction?

First of all, this conflict with Life did not start three years ago. It started nine years ago when Death first attacked the core of my Life and took away my brother. He was 30 years old and the circumstances of his sudden Death remain a mystery to this day. Today I know I lost that first battle, and never quite managed to reconcile with what happened, thus, I never reached the "constructive" stage. Never thought there even could be one. I do remember a day where I was sitting outside with my baby daughters, some three years after the first bomb had been dropped on my family and realized I could not live in between, in this peculiar twilight zone somewhere between Life and Death; I had to make a choice where it is I wanted to be. I choose Life, but more as a "conflict management" tool, to use Lederach's terms than as a "conflict transformation tool". The result being an "absence of open conflict on the outside, but gangrene continuing to do its job inside. Interestingly enough, and concordant to my being part of this blog, I suppose, one the thoughts that kept me going was World War II, and the fact that if 'they' - by 'they' I, of course, mean the leftovers of my family - had been able to make it, so could I, or rather, so should I.

Five and a half years later, the atomic bomb was dropped on my nuclear family. I believe I have handled, and am still handling this conflict very differently. There are various reasons that have caused the change, the main ones being the responsibility factor as well as a very different approach to Death. Whereas when I lost my brother, I could rely on my husband, relegate, delegate, hide, shroud myself even.
When my husband passed away, the rules of the game changed, as suddenly and as drastically as he, himself, left this world.
This time around, it was me. And me alone. The choice became sickeningly simple; either surrender and leave two orphans or stand up. As regards standing up, there are different ways of standing up as well: does one stand up in oblivion or does one stand up in full awareness? The difference being resolving the conflict from the outside, and living in the grey margins of Life, with anger eating you and all those you are living with, because these germs have this nasty tendency of being extremely contagious in a home, thus making Life a complete Inferno. Or does one decide to go to the roots and resolve the conflict starting there; making Peace with both Life and Death, thereby ensuring yourself and your loved ones a promising future and allowing for the possibility of Joy and Happiness to come your way again.
I believe I have taken the second path, although it is still too early to tell with utmost certainty.

Another one of the factors that most probably helped me choose the second path, that of reconciliation and transformation would probably be the death of my grand-father. It is worth mentioning that I do not remember the exact date of his death. It was in February, sometime between 2001 and 2007. It is my one prerogative her, this refusal to mark yet another death date on my calendar. But other than that, his passing away made me realize that death is not only brutal and violent. That it is also a normal healthy part of life. My grand-father had had a good and long life. He was a happy man. Made a family he loved and was proud of. Worked hard, travelled, enjoyed the good things of life, and never was sick and / or hospitalized. He passed away quickly enough not to suffer or be yet another victim of those debilitating older people illnesses, yet not too fast, in order to give us all time to say goodbye to him. For me it was a revelation. Of course I grieved, of course I hurt, but it was all in the norms, all according to the rules, all following the orderly Chapters of the Book of Life. The day you are born, you know there should be a certain order in Death: first the great-grand-parents, second, the grand-parents, third the parents, and finally your spouse or you. One should never bury his/her child.

So, armed with the realization, on the one hand, that I would need to come to Peace with Death, if I did not want to be engulfed by it, and on the other hand, with the newly found knowledge of the Truth, i.e. Death is not always an enemy, I stood up and faced the second conflict with a determination to solve it in an as constructive as possible way.
"Dance. As Long as the music plays, you gotta dance. […] Dance your best. Like your life depended on it." (Dance Dance Dance - Murakami).

In his article "The Art and Soul of Peacebuilding", Lederach mentions four elements without which, according to him, peace building is impossible, they are: 1- the capacity to imagine a web of relationship, which induces recognizing oneself as part of the pattern; 2- the discipline to sustain curiosity, which indicates deep caring for people and experiences; 3- an eternal belief in the creative act, as opposed to violence as a response due to lack of imagination; 4- the willingness to take risks, for not taking any often means staying stuck in situations.

These four points are easily related to the four stages of mourning: denial, anger, despair, acceptance and can be adapted to the four above-mentioned elements.
Recognizing oneself as part of the web as a response to denial, deep caring for others as a response to anger, creation as a response to despair and violence; and finally, the intertwining of the last two points: to accept the unknown, as taking a huge risk.
Put back into the webs of my life, they would translate in totally different ways in relation to my reactions towards the loss of my brother or that of my husband.

Whereas the first time my general tendency was continuous denial and feeling of total lack of control, the second time, the knowledge that I, as an integral part of it all, could make it better for myself and those who depended on me greatly improved my ability to stand up to adversities.
When my brother passed away, the feeling of anger was so predominant and shot so randomly in all directions, a bit like a trigger happy soldier who lost all hope, that it prohibited any other interest. On the other hand, armed with the knowledge that anger is a stage one goes through and needs not be negative if channeled and if addressed the right way, and to the right person, the deceased or Death, or Life (or all at once), it does not proscribe caring for others, or for oneself.
The third point is of extreme importance for despair can be so strong that it can in fact obstruct all other imaginary paths and may lead to violence, self or on others. The ability not to get pulled down, which is so tempting at times, needs nothing else but imagination and a strong belief in Life and the fact it still has a lot to offer.
As for the acceptance and risk taking, I only accepted the loss of my brother when I lost my husband.
One terrible death overrode the other, and pushed me into a corner from which I made the conscious choice of facing up to all the Devils and resolve my inner Life and Death conflict, for I knew it was the only way if I wanted to live.

It has now been nine years, four or five years and three years and a half.
I have accepted the concept of Death and the fact that it is up to me to make this co-habitation livable or not.
My life has undergone a few revolutions.
I am still missing many answers and I suppose that many pieces of the puzzle are lost forever and it is up to me to either fill those in with other pieces - that, needless to say, will never match perfectly but might cover some of the blank spaces -, or accept the blanks as an integral part of it all.
I do know that without going to the core of matter I will never be able to live with those missing pieces, whether filled or not, and they will continue to gnarl me.
The final stage will come with a complete internalization of Gibran's words "Life and Death are One", which will be the day I know the exact place and position to give Life and Death, for, after all, they are the two sides of the same coin and one would not be possible without the other.


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