Monday, October 1, 2007

In Memoriam

Out of several colorful options of yoga, homework, or bhajans, I choose to drive to the temple to chant. When I pull in, I see the parking lot filled with cars. What's going on? I wonder curiously. As I circle around the temple, I see the room filled with people... in memoriam of Mother Srestha.

Stunned, I sit down in the very back. When Mother Sukhada comes around, I request if I could get up and speak after everybody else.

Over an hour and a half passes of people in her life speaking their memories and realizations. I keep flashing forward to an image of people gathered at my own memorial. I feel my emotions getting tighter and tighter. Finally, Sukhada calls me up.

In the silence I make my way to the microphone and gaze out at all of Srestha's Christian friends seated in chairs, the elder devotees present, and the serene Muslim man sitting in front - her husband.

I take a deep breath. "I didn't know Mother Srestha. Actually, I've never spoken with her in my life. Last year, my mother - who plays the orchestra harp - decided to play for Srestha's benefit concert to assist in her chemotherapy expenses. When my mother returned to Hawaii, I heard random snippets here and there of Srestha, but I never dwelt on it long.

"And then, it was Radhastami morning - " I breathe in deep, shaking, " - and I was taking a japa walk on this sandy road on the temple property. I've been pondering life and death very deeply for the past couple weeks and suddenly, completely unbidden... I thought of Srestha. I thought of her condition, and how she was coming along, and her realizations while having a terminal illness.

"And then, I saw Mother Rangavati approaching me in the distance, chanting. And I thought, 'If anyone knows how Srestha is doing, I'm sure she knows' and so I asked Rangavati, 'How is Srestha?'

"'Oh, she passed away this morning.' she replied.

"Completely stunned, I stood there in silence. Then I exclaimed quietly, 'What??'

"'Yes, I just found out about forty minutes ago.'

"'But, but... I have not thought about her this entire year. I've never even spoken with her. I do not even know her. And all of a sudden I feel concerned for her.' I pondered in disbelief.

"Mother Rangavati smiled. 'You must be tuned in, Bhakti,' and she twisted an imaginary radio dial. 'Amazing how precious and fleeting life can be, no?' she asked me. We conversed on realizations of life and death, and then began to walk back towards the temple for the noon arati for Srimati Radharani.

"We had discussed how a great saint in our tradition, Maharaj Yudhistir, was asked the question, 'What is the most amazing thing in this world?' and he replied, 'We see our family, our friends, everyone around us all dying, and yet we believe as though we shall live forever,'

"Yet Srestha still lives through her example and the way that I feel as though I shall remember and reflect on her for the rest of my life.

"I look around to see that her love of God has impacted all of us, no matter which path we may have chosen - Christian, Vaishnava, or Muslim - her own husband. She has united us all here today. This is her legacy. And what could I aspire to more than when I pass away I leave a legacy of love, appreciation, and cooperation.

"I apologize if I have taken up time speaking in lieu of someone who has known her more deeply. I wanted to share with you, though, how she has somehow threaded into my life, even by me being here tonight. Thank you."

As I sit down, my mind keeps returning to the thought that one day, people shall gather for my own small memorial service - laugh and cry... and then disperse for the night to return home and to life.


Anonymous said...

Death is a reality hey.. It's good to reflect on it once a while but make sure you don't get too much carried away :)

Shaka said...

That was an extremely inspiring speech/post. It reminds me of a man who was staying at New Govardhana when Tamal Krishna Goswami passed away. He was new to ISKCON, but the grief he expressed at the ceremony brang tears to my eyes.
You definitely have a way with words and are very 'in tune'.
Ys, vishaka

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