Today I was going to run the London Marathon, my first long distance race. I have been training for months, enjoying the early runs, the long miles, the loneliness of the distance runner. Whilst I accidentally went 27 miles in training (you can really get lost on the north London canals!), today is not the day I will be hitting that 3:30 mark.
Yesterday was my father’s funeral. Cancer took him in 8 weeks from start to finish, with a speed that left everyone speechless; my dad never did like to waste words, or his time, on events whose outcome he couldn’t influence. “Nothing clarifies the mind like the absence of an alternative”, he liked to say.
It wasn’t as much of a funeral as it was a celebration. Friends and family came together, over 200 of them. to share memories. It was emotional, it was uplifting. People talked of a man of humour, culture, insatiable intellectual appetite, great drive but most importantly able to build deep friendships that lasted decades.
He looked death right in the eye when she came. No fear, except maybe for the passing itself. He kept us laughing all the way, with those jokes that hover somewhere between self-deprecation, deadpan puns and puzzling non-sequiturs, a unique mix that marked his “Belgianism” perfectly. He, Ray, the Evere “ketje” (street boy) who loved quantum physics as much as the Premier League.
Death is transcended by humor, art, philosophy and, above all, friendship and love. This absurd human condition, which precipitates us from the cradle to the tomb, becomes something exceptional only when we accept and even rejoice in its ephemeral character. When we do, the absurd can touch on the sublime. The ephemeral is the very foundation of that beauty. Life has meaning precisely because it is an arc from birth to death.
I’m grateful for my dad helping me understand all this. His last lesson to me was to take death standing tall, without fear. An example to live by.
Welcome to true adulthood, as a friend of mine said. He’s right, and whilst the absence will be felt, there is a rich seam of meaning in it all. Now, let me go focus on my mom.