Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Although I was on campus at 6am this morning, I couldn't bear to go up to my department. I remember too well the events of Monday, and the idea of spending an hour and a half alone wasn't very appealing.

In my classes I gave the requisite pep talk to my students. That yes life is hard but we must continue the battle. It is in the fight that we know ourselves truly - and we come to grips and learn to live with our strengths and our weaknesss. Hopefully it is also in the fight that we find meaning. That we are not here, occupying space, merely to eat, shit and breathe.

There were a few of us who responded to the invite of the former dean to pray for LT's passing. Flanked by two colleagues from my department, I was a few minutes late. They had already started the ceremony, but the secretary ushered us in and gave us a prayer pamphlet. It was a long prayer - one obviously meant to redeem the soul of someone who has wilfully taken his life. I did not know LT well. He only came to class a handful of times. And yet I was truly saddened by his death. The prayer was awfully repetitive. We must have said his name dozens of times. It was saying his name that made me cry. One moment there was a living being. And another there was none. Where has he gone?

It is moments like these where I am glad I have not made my final decision not to believe. And yet I knew, even as I said the words along with everyone else, that I was not praying for LT. Yes, I was paying my respects, but I also understood that the ceremony was for us who are still living. To reassure us that he has gone to a better place. Thankfully the ambiguity of an agnostic allows flirting with such a notion. The ceremony was also to assuage us of our guilt. The rational part of me knows that I could not have done anything to stop what happened. And yet there is a also a part that feels strangely complicit.

Confronted with death, it is unsettling not having any anchor onto which to frame the loss. A devout Christian will have faith in God - that embodiment of Truth under which all of life's events are subsumed. In God such a loss becomes rational - it has meaning. His death was God's plan. He will go to a better place. The rationalisations of the faithful give hope.

I remember a lengthy talk with a friend I left in Oz, a devout Baptist. Being the snob intellectual that I am, I still cannot reconcile intelligence with religiosity. And yet she is without a doubt brilliant. After this talk, filled with plenty of sobbing, I understood that her religion allowed her to function. I had since become more sensitive of the faithful, having also become fast friends with a devout Muslim. I also lived with a young atheist. How uncomfortable was one dinner conversation when we were all sitting at the dinner table. Whilst I did not believe in any of their religions, I thought it was worth defending their right to believe as they chose.

What of my own philosophy? I have no faith in god. Humanist that I am, I have faith in people. In redeeming myself, and in wishing redemption for others, I see reason. I see meaning.

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