I saw this post by previous Troppo regular Richard 塚正, the Troppo author previously known as Richard Green and tweeted a suggestion that he republish it here. To which I got the reply: “I long since lost my password and was too lazy to try and recover it. You can repost yourself if you want tho”. I tried to recover his password and send it to him, but couldn’t figure it out. So over the fold is his post.
A little over 5 years ago our daughter died and was born.
I try to avoid talking about her too much, since it puts a burden on others, at least in terms of their expectations in how they should react to a still birth. But also because it seems unfit for me to make my own spectacle out of a grief that is equally shared by my wife; especially when it was my wife who had the ambiguous privilege of feeling Sakura’s life before it was taken. Nonetheless it seems remiss that Sakura’s remaining monument in this world would be the bleak and taciturn memorial I wrote a year later. Maybe she deserves more, and it is not what she now means to me.
So now, after five years, I return to her.
In part this follows 4 years of a fatherhood filled with warm and squirming children held in arms rather than just 1 year where fatherhood was just a memory of a cold one held in the hands. That alone makes what I wrote back then feel somewhat remote from the way I feel now.
But Sakura’s brief existence has had a profound effect on my life. It deepened and strengthened our marriage in ways I will not discuss here, and it forced me to accept things the denial of which had been preventing much happiness. This wasn’t profound revelation so much as belated maturity, but still, she was the catalyst.
In short, her death was mundane, it was unavoidable, and it was meaningless.
That is; I was free to ascribe my own meaning, and had no compulsion to vindicate any part of her death.
The first choice I made with that freedom is apparent through the way I speak of her. I’ve asserted Sakura existed as a person ever since she was born. Of course the law also makes this assertion, based on an arbitrary determination that a dead foetus is becomes a dead baby after 20 weeks in the womb. And much ink and more tears have been spilled litigating when we agree a human has humanity. But our assertion suits our own purposes alone. She may never have drawn breath, looked at our faces or known our love, but she is a daughter and now a sister.
But recognising this about her death laid clear a broader, and comforting meaninglessness. I have never been religious (although ever without animus to those who are), but that doesn’t mean I was free of some sense of it; that the cosmos was to be vindicated, and there was purpose to my role in it. The teleology of my creed, although I did not recognise it, was that of Progress. The world was getting better, and this was necessarily so. The ills of the world were unavoidable and even necessary portions of the path to Progress that we tread. In addition I had been gifted some sort of talent and drive, and I was obliged to leave my mark on the world.
The burden of this creed was not apparent until it was lifted. I did not know how much effort and anguish I had put into vindicating a world of ills until I no longer felt compelled to. Sakura’s death was an unavoidable; a random shuffling of chromosomes. Poverty is not. Violence is not. Borders are not. And they certainly aren’t waystations on the way to a greater good. They’re just evils we can choose not to accept, and work to eliminate.
And the insubstantial legacy of Sakura’s existence made the vanity of leaving my mark more apparent. Any mark would just be a smudge, barely legible and soon obscured, and then wiped clean. Why not just enjoy life whilst letting others do the same?
We may be but fleeting sparks against the void — albeit some more fleeting than others — but we can make of that moment what we will.
Obviously there is nothing here that has not been written before innumerable times, and known by magnitudes more who in consequence have never felt compelled to write. I’m just doing this for Sakura, or what she means to me.
But I’ll end with an appreciation of the most comforting passage of the bible; where God speaks from the whirlwind to Job chastising Job’s conceit; that which led him to assume there was meaning he could find in his suffering, when any meaning is knowable only to Him. An unknowable God is, in his function in this world, an entirely absent one. I can make of him what I will too The voice I hear from the whirlwind is my own to my younger self.
“Grow up mate”.