Sunday 11 March 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying to-night or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.

Rain by Edward Thomas

Rain, snow, earthquakes. Death is sometimes represented as an uprising of the elements. Nature's way of imposing order, albeit chaotically. Some of us hate to think that we could die on a nice sunny day with a smile on our faces, while out in the countryside with our beloved ones, just as we're living life to the full. Death is the last mile in the loneliness of the long distance runner. All those tiny, teeny, wee, itsy-bitsy steps we take when we're toddlers is a preparation for the marathon of life. Some of us can't bear to consider that there'll be a moment when our bodies will cross the Finish line. Some of us can bear it even less when we imagine that Finish line hovering, unexpectedly, into the field of vision of someone we care for.

Death is the concept with which we'll never be able to reconcile ourselves. It's a fundamental part of our life, but we make light of it, or ignore it. Sometimes we write about it as if to exorcise the demons that embody its omnipresent nature. A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a close relative of my wife's. He'd been suffering from a long-term illness and I guess that we all, including his wife, expected his demise at some point soon. Just writing those words makes me want to go back and wipe them out. That's what death does to you; it leads you to a point of denial and self-denial. And yet, how can we deny its starring role in our lives?

This man's existence was punctuated by many virtues, but one stood out amongst the others: he was always laughing. Whenever I saw him, he always had a bright smile on his face. I'm sure that his three children, present at his funeral, will have stories to tell of moments of strict parental discipline, but as each of them faced the congregation on that day, they spoke of many well-lived moments, full of humour and merriment.

He died on a Sunday. The funeral was nine days later, on a Tuesday. Why so long? It's a tradition in the UK. Another custom is to celebrate the person's life. Therefore there was music on that sad day. A The Beatles compilation played on piano welcomed those in attendance, followed by a rendition of Standing on a Corner by Frank Loesser.  Irving Berlin's Blues Skies was another melody performed that day and sung by a choir. After the service the family went to a pub where I'm sure - I couldn't join them - many an anecdote about this man's life was shared, many a moment was relived. The "rain did rain upon him" in the end, but amidst the grief, I'm certain that for an instant everyone had the same thought: how lucky they were for having had him in their lives.

In Cuba, we have a different way of dealing with our dead. We bury them straight away. My auntie passed away more than twelve years ago. She died on a Thursday (close to midnight), the wake took place throughout the night and by eleven o' clock on Friday morning we were all making our way to the Colón cemetery. Over the years our attitude to death has made me feel sometimes as if we can't wait to close that chapter. The pain is too much and no amount of happy memories can quench it. We still remember them, our dead, but unlike in Britain where there's a period of mourning, of reconciling oneself to the idea that that person will be no more, back home we tend to shovel soil on the coffin the moment they close their eyes forever. Since my auntie's death I have had an uneasy feeling about things I would have liked to say to her - a second mother to me - even though she was already dead. Then, again, I was only eighteen going nineteen (she died eight days before my birthday ) when she left us. Given half a chance, I might or might not have had the strength of mind and spirit to stand up in front of a congregation of people and tell them how much she meant to me. How lucky we all were for having had her in our lives.

This is not a vis-à-vis comparison between how people deal with death in the UK and Cuba. Nor is it a statement declaring a preference for a tradition over the other. It's rather a mere adumbration, an impressionistic sketching, if you like, of what happens when we give back our life. Today's reflection is full of short brush strokes of bright colours that juxtapose each other creating an odd image. One that is full of light, but also of darkness. Because as one of the greatest singers in the Spanish language, Joan Manuel Serrat, said once: "La vida te la dan/pero no te la regalan/La vida se paga/por más que te pene" ("You get a life/But it's not for free/You return your life/No matter how much this hurts"). And despite our best efforts to seek shelter under our umbrellas, one day "rain will rain upon us".

© 2012

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 14th March at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. What a poem, and an interesting contrast between British and Cuban traditions... Thanks Mario

  2. As the daughter of an evangelical minister, I witnessed many burial ceremonies. Interestingly, while the pain of departure was fully acknowledged, the joy of being with the Lord was also emphasized. This points to the diverse way in which people mark this inevitable development.

  3. Death is quite incomprehensible, a blow to our psyche. For those of us who lost a loved one unexpectedly, the loss entombs us, strangles us with grief. That's the time when faith abandons us, literally. We want a Lazarus miracle, and we are angry and dismayed at the Universe for what it has done to us.

  4. geeze, Cubano, my eyes misted with the rain thingy, and then you went into the anecdote - - - darn tears started,

    methinx that my testosterone level must be dropping by the bucketful as i age and approach the endgame of my own mortality;

    certainly the end of that curse that is machismo "los hombres no lloran" [men don't cry] but i digress . . .

    ye've got me in the mood of listening to BLUE SKIES . . . and so i am, though the track i own is one by Caetano Veloso (worth looking up, Cubano)not quite the mood we're looking for but fine for my velorio, **{gotta make note}**

    you have a powerful way with words, my friend, i believe i have said this before . . . it's why i keep coming back for more. thank you for your consistency.

    your musical selection: there you go, one minute i am on my deathbed, the next i am an altar boy contemplating priesthood even as i jonez after Sor Maria Elena . . . bad boy. ;-)

    thanks again,
    please accept this rant as a sign
    of my pleasure in reading these Sunday Java Jives.


  5. Very interesting refection on death and the rituals attached to it. I've always firmly believed that death is just a passage into another dimension and I think that makes it easier for me to deal with it. I do not like funerals or being in the presence of the dead, however.It's very uncomfortable for me to deal with heavy emotions and gazing at a dead body is not soothing to me. I think that the life of the dead should be celebrated and the people left behind given the space to mourn in their own way.

  6. What a wonderful and interesting post, Cuban. I am sorry to hear of this man's passing but I enjoyed hearing of his effect on the world around him. And I loved the music and the poem.

    I just watched a very interesting film about death on the website for Tricyle Magazine. It was fascinating -- and addressed how our cultures are so not prepared for death, fear death, deny death, etc. The man profiled and interviewed is a theologian in Nova Scotia, but he has found his spirituality in the indigenous peoples of his country -- too long to discuss here, but I think you'd like to take a look.

  7. Only last night my husband and I were talking about death,Cuban. And I told him that I had just read on a blog somewhere - I can't quite remember where - someone recommends we think about death for a about twenty minutes each day. It is a good way to prepare.

    I told my husband then that I think about death every day, but not for twenty minutes, maybe for five, if I'm lucky and he told me he, too, thinks about death daily.

    We did not think about death so much in our earlier years. There was no need then or so it seemed. Death happened to other people. But now we know that's not true.

    It happens to us, to us and to ours. We also played a version of Blue Skies at my husband's brother's funeral only a few weeks back. 53 years old and to my mind he died too young.

    Willie Nelson's version of Blue Skies seems remarkably apt here. For us at a funeral to be singing about Blue skies while you remind us about the rain. Thank you.

  8. A relative of mine died just this Saturday and so there is a funeral on the way. A lot of the wait in the UK is just high numbers in the queue... my Mum's funeral was within the week (just because we live in a small town so less of a wait). Plus the warmer the climate the quicker people bury the dead... isn't that true? Just a practical concern perhaps?

  9. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. Especially on such a delicate topic like death.

    Yes, I agree that our warm weather might be a reason why we tend to bury our dead as quick as possible. Also, I think that it might have something to do with the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, Cuba (and most of Latin America) having been influenced by the former.

    I, too, find the presence of death in close proximity uncomfortable. Despite my auntie's central role in my life I didn't approach her coffin during the wake. Something told me that if I wanted to remember her, I ought not to see her dead. Up to this day, when I dream of her, I dream of her alive.

    Greetings from London.

  10. I like the way they bury the dead in Cuba. It sounds pretty smart to me.

  11. There are only two things that are inevitable in life - change and death. And many people think that change is death or death is change so even that is entwined.

    I think that natural conditions might have something to do with the differencee between English mourning traditions and Cuban traditions. After all, in a hot climate it makes sense to bury the body as soon as possible while in a cold climate there's a bit of leeway time before taking that final step. In India we perform the cremation as soon as possible.


  12. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It is good to hear he lived his life laughing and was well remembered. I find it fascinating that all human cultures mark death by ceremony but with great diversity. Lovely Bach!

  13. Your passion for music always inspires me. And you always lead me to new discoveries. Thank you.



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