In Memoriam –Alan Austrin 1989-2015
There is nothing like a bout of pneumonia in the middle of summer to arouse feelings of mortality; and give some sense of life’s precarity and the arbitrariness and unpredictability of the taken for granted.
While I was feeling mortal and waiting for the antibotics to kick in I was sent a note from a friend indicating that the 26 year old son of my former colleagues, Terry Austrin and Nabila Jaber, Alan Austrin, had been killed in a motor cycle accident on the Paekakariki beach near Wellington.
Alan was Terry and Nabila’s only son. Soon after he was born we often baby sat for him. You don’t expect someone you baby sat for to die before you!
Anyway the news hit me with a dull thud. It made my own mortal anxieties pale into total insignificance.
Alan was a 26 year old, writer, musician and student. He was in a creative relationship with Rebecca Nash ( also a writer) and they had produced a little 4 month old baby daughter Noelle. Friends describe Alan as a “Lovely laid back guy who really loved his daughter”. Here they are in happier times
There is no rational explanation for this death. It is tragic and meaningless. Even though I have not seen him for years Alan’s death still seems strangely personal
Everyone is in shock and grief. Alan’s demise reminds us of how fragile and unpredictable all life is. Rebecca is now a widow and a solo mother. Noelle will never know her father. Terry and Nabila will never see their son realise all his/their hopes and aspirations for the future. They won’t be able to experience his growth into middle age. The world of letters and music will be deprived of his talents and gifts. Those of us who welcomed him into the world 26 years ago feel absence instead of presence.
Yet at any one moment there is a natural ebb and flow to life everywhere.
Babies are born and fill their parents and relatives with hope for the future. In other places people are dying leaving behind others to make sense of the whys and the whens and the circumstances of their passing. Some die of natural causes some of very unnatural and preventable ones.
The news today is filled with stories about politically driven murder in France. Extremists killing innocent civilians French police killing extremists. There is a report of another suicide bombing in Pakistan. Bokol Haram creating more mayhem in Nigeria. Celebrities die with universal acknowledgement others die where they are often unnoticed, unmourned, and ignored.
There would be no literature, no art, no films, no music, no food, no love, no hospitality, no God, no meaning without the eternal cycle of birth, death, new birth rebirth. Narratives-stories-discourses are all embodied: They all begin with copulation and birth followed by a wide variety of different transitions, seeding and flowering , seeding and barenness, beginnings and ends, inevitable death. While young deaths seem particularly tragic they have their own completeness especially if the individual concerned is creative and life affirming . There are many long lives that often produce little in the way of creative impulse .
But on this day all of this sounds platitudinous. Alan died before his time, a short rather than a long story, a sad rather than a happy song. Deep commiserations to all those who loved him .
John O Donahue, Irish Poet and Mystic died on the 4th January 2008. In his book , Anam Cara, on Celtic wisdom he said this about death . As we say in Quaker parlance “Thou speaks my mind!”
ANAM CARA: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
— John O’Donohue © 1997
WHEN DEATH VISITS . . .
Death is a lonely visitor. After it visits your home, nothing is ever the same again. There is an empty place at the table; there is an absence in the house. Having someone close to you die is an incredibly strange and desolate experience. Something breaks within you then that will never come together again. Gone is the person whom you loved, whose face and hands and body you knew so well. This body, for the first time, is completely empty. This is very frightening and strange. After the death many questions come into your mind concerning where the person has gone, what they see and feel now. The death of a loved one is bitterly lonely. When you really love someone, you would be willing to die in their place. Yet no one can take another’s place when that time comes. Each one of us has to go alone. It is so strange that when someone dies, they literally disappear. Human experience includes all kinds of continuity and discontinuity, closeness and distance. In death, experience reaches the ultimate frontier. The deceased literally falls out of the visible world of form and presence. At birth you appear out of nowhere, at death you disappear to nowhere. . . . The terrible moment of loneliness in grief comes when you realize that you will never see the deceased again. The absence of their life, the absence of their voice, face, and presence become something that, as Sylvia Plath says, begins to grow beside you like a tree.
DEATH TRANSFIGURES OUR SEPARATION . . .
It is a strange and magical fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and a world at your fingertips outside you. It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here. Rilke said, “Being here is so much.” It is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free. The more lonely side of being here is our separation in the world. When you live in a body you are separate from every other object and person. Many of our attempts to pray, to love, and to create are secret attempts at transfiguring that separation in order to build bridges outward so that others can reach us and we can reach them. At death, this physical separation is broken. The soul is released from its particular and exclusive location in this body. The soul then comes in to a free and fluent universe of spiritual belonging.
DEATH AS AN INVITATION TO FREEDOM . . .
If you really live your life to the full, death will never have power over you. It will never seem like a destructive, negative event. It can become, for you, the moment of release into the deepest treasures of your own nature; it can be your full entry into the temple of your soul. If you are able let go of things, you learn to die spiritually in little ways during your life. When you learn to let go of things, a greater generosity, openness, and breath comes into your life. Imagine this letting go multiplied a thousand times at the moment of your death. That release can bring you a completely new divine belonging.