I came across one of those sentimental “quotations” so prevalent these days. I have done a quick translation into English, and must emphasise now that I do not identify with the sentiment conveyed!
And if I were to die? Imagine what it would be like, you sending me an SMS knowing that I would never answer it; phoning me knowing that you call would only end up in my voicemail; you searching for me on social networks, knowing that I would never be online again; you would stand up for me with tears in your eyes, knowing that I would never be there. Imagine a world without me and tell me it makes no difference to you.
Attributed to Pedro Jobim (whoever he may be).
My immediate response to the self-indulgent, mawkish outpouring above: It would be the same thing whether online or in this three-dimensional world which still, thank God, passes for reality.
Grief not something to be sniffed at, of that I am certain. But to be so egocentric as to imagine someone else grieving for you (online only, to boot) if you were to die? Forgive me, but I do find such things distasteful; all the more so because they are passed on without a second thought by so many to so many others.
I was fortunate that philosophy was part of of my weekly diet as a child. I use the word diet in a literal and figurative sense here. I come from ordinary folk who had ordinary lives in which they did extraordinary things – and thought nothing of it.
Every Saturday evening, our family would join others for a barbecue, known as a “braai” in southern Africa. Many of these were held at “Mr and Mrs A’s”, and later, braais were held at the various homes of the families who came to these weekly gatherings.
As a child, I loved helping with the making of the fire, the smell of meat cooking, trying to stir the sadza (cooked cornmeal porridge, for want of a better description) in the pot in the kitchen with the ladies, yet not yet strong enough to do so.
I retrospect, the facilities were basic. The meal was simple, and one you had to wait an incredibly long time for, it seemed. Mr A had an open veranda with three steps leading on to the grass (not “lawn”, grass!). There was one outside light some distance away. The men, my father included, would all stand around the fire, cooking the meat in the semi-darkness, chatting, laughing, joking, and drinking a beer or two. We kids used to sit on the steps, watching, once we had been discharged from our duties of laying the table and helping our mothers. Alternatively, we used to run around, playing catch in the dark, until our mothers came out to the fire, and reprimanded our fathers for not having kept a better eye on us.
Once the food was ready, we would all load our plates with meat, sadza, relish (a tomato and onion gravy into which one dips handfuls of sadza), sometimes salad, and always a slice of bread. Eating was not a formal affair. Two or three would, if they felt like it, sit at the dining room table; some would sit in the lounge, with their plates on their laps. Some, mostly the men, would sit on the steps outside and eat there. We children were encouraged to do the same because of our propensity to make a mess.
This was the part I like the most, for the real talking would begin about the time most men had eaten about half their food. As children, we were allowed, very rarely, to ask our father questions occasionally, but only to confirm our understanding of the conversation under way. Otherwise, we just listened as the arguing, debating, and back and forth continued late into the night, as the embers of the fire cast strange light on the faces surrounding it.
Topics of conversation ranged from the political situation, religion, history, ethical issues, life, freedom, honour, death (lots on that), and the humorous things that happened “in the old days” – for this group had been together for many years, long before any of the children were born.
These gatherings included the recitation of rhymes, and snippets of poems, and what great people in history had said about things, and songs, with the naughty bits left out, lest they fall on innocent ears.
Mr A., the patriarch of this group, was quite a philosopher in his own right, and rigorous in his examination of any issue. It is at his knee – and in the casual company of family and family friends that I learned by heart various verses of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám long before I ever saw them in print. You must understand that none of this was considered special – and these fragments of a long-ago poet from a distant land blended seamlessly with comments such as, “please take my plate to the kitchen”, and so on.
Finally, we get to my second reaction to the words quoted at the beginning of this blog: two verses learnt in firelight so long ago:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and—sans End!
There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little talk awhile of me and thee
There seemed—and then no more of thee and me.
Don’t ask me where they appear in the Rubáiyát. For that, you will have to read the whole thing yourself, when you grow up. That is what I was told, anyway.