Life goes on...

Life goes on...

The administrator of one of my WhatsApp groups passed away recently. Ever since he formed it last year, its many members have been exchanging posts and messages. After our initial outpourings of dismay on learning of our friend’s demise, we are back to our regular texting.

No disrespect is intended. We understand (or shall at some point) that when tragedy strikes, the world does not come to a standstill. Several will offer comfort and consolation, but even the most sympathetic of friends and well-wishers cannot share our sadness forever. However deeply affected we are by death and disaster, we have to move on.

When we are grief-stricken, especially while braving bereavement, those around us might appear immune to sorrow. This, of course, is an erroneous impression.

The people we pass on our way to the ICU, crematorium or cemetery may not all be coping with a catastrophic crisis, but they have problems of their own. In any case, we cannot expect everyone, least of all strangers or those we hardly know, to stand by us in times of trouble.

In fact, human beings often display regrettable indifference to the sufferings of their fellowmen. The poet, W H Auden, praises artists of old for recognising this unpalatable truth.

In a famous poem, he describes a 16th-century painting that portrays a dramatic incident in Greek mythology. Icarus (whose waxen wings melted as he flew near the sun) has just fallen into the sea and his legs are sticking out of the water.

According to the poet, for a ploughman nearby, ‘it was not an important failure.’ Neither does a ship, which has witnessed the strange sight of a boy plunging earthwards from the sky, attempt a rescue. ‘It had somewhere to get to,’ says Auden, ‘and sailed calmly on.’ In much the same manner, regardless of the calamities that befall us, life goes on.