Friday 25 November 2011

A sobering tale and some gratitude

In honour of Thanksgiving over in the USA yesterday, I wanted to share this story. Beware though, fair readers, because this isn't a happy tale; in fact it's quite a sad one. But I was so astonished when I read it that I thought I'd post it here as a reminder to myself and to also share a little perspective. This is one of the many insightful stories found in Paulo Coelho's book Like The Flowing River.

The Dead Man Wore Pajamas by Paulo Coelho
I remember reading a piece of news on the Internet that a man was found dead in Tokyo on 10 June 2004, dressed in his pajamas.

So what? I imagine that most people who die wearing their pajamas either a) died in their sleep, which is a blessing, or b) were in the company of their relatives or on a hospital bed – death did not come quickly, so they all had time to grow used to “the undesirable one,” as Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira called it.

The news goes on: when he died, he was in his room. So, the hospital hypothesis is out and we are left with just the possibility that he died in his sleep, without suffering any, without even realizing that he would not see the light of day.

But there is still another possibility: assault followed by death.

Those who have visited Tokyo know that the gigantic city is at the same time one of the safest places in the world. I remember once stopping to eat with my editors before taking a trip to the interior of Japan – all our suitcases were in sight on the rear seat of the car. Immediately I said that it was very dangerous, someone was sure to come along, see all those bags and make off with our clothes, documents and so on. My editor just smiled and told me not to worry – he knew of no such incident in all his long years of life (in fact, nothing happened to our suitcases, although I kept tense all through dinner).

But to return to our dead man in pajamas: there was no sign of struggle, violence or anything of the sort. In an interview, a Metropolitan Police officer stated that it was almost certainly a case of a sudden heart attack. So the hypothesis of homicide was also eliminated.

The body had been found by workers of a construction company on the second floor of a building in a housing complex that was about to be torn down. Everything led to the idea that the dead man in the pajamas, unable to find anywhere to live in one of the most densely and expensive cities in the world, had simply decided to settle where he did not have to pay any rent.

And now for the tragic part of the story: our dead man was only a skeleton dressed in pajamas. At his side was an open newspaper dated 20 February 1984; a calendar on the table nearby gave the same date.

In other words, he had been there for twenty years.

And nobody had noticed his absence.

The man was identified as a former employee of the company that had built the housing complex, where he had moved to in the early 80s soon after his divorce. He was just over fifty years on the day that all of a sudden, reading the newspaper, he left this world.

His ex-wife never sought for him. It was discovered that the company where he worked had gone bankrupt right after the building had been finished, since no apartment was sold, and so they did not find it odd that the man never turned up for his daily activities. His friends were looked up, and they put his disappearance down to the fact that he had borrowed some money and could not pay it back.

The news ends informing us that the mortal remains were delivered to the ex-wife. I finished reading the article and wondered at the last sentence: the ex-wife was still alive, and for twenty years had not even looked up her husband. What must have gone through her head? That he no longer loved her, that he had decided to remove her for ever from his life. That he had met another woman and disappeared without a trace. That life is like that, once the divorce procedures are over there is no point in carrying on a relationship that has been legally terminated. I imagine what she must have felt upon finding out the fate of the man with whom she had shared a good part of her life.

Then I thought of the dead man in his pajamas, of solitude so utter and abysmal that for twenty years nobody in this whole wide world had realized that he had simply disappeared without leaving a trace. And my conclusion is that worse than feeling hunger and thirst, worse than being jobless, suffering for love, in despair over some defeat – worse than all this is to feel that nobody, absolutely nobody in this world, cares for us.

Let us at this moment say a quiet prayer for this man and let us offer him our thanks for making us reflect on how important our friends are.

{Part 1 & Part 2 of this story taken from Paulo's blog}
How horrible is that? The man was left there for 20 years, and nobody had missed him or wondered where he was, or even worried enough about him to go and look for him! This certainly puts things into a different light for those of us who are lucky enough to have families and friends who love us and would notice our absence. There are truly people out there who have not another in the entire world.

Me, I'm always complaining because a lot of my close family live in The Philippines and Australia, and I can't see them as often as I want to. Sometimes it really sucks, but at least they're there and with modern technology 'far away' isn't really that anymore. Plus I still have a small amount of family here, and I still have my friends – I'm not really alone like the man who died in his pajamas. It's just an important time, I think, to remember what we have and what we are grateful for. So I'd like to say thanks to those I have in my life today, for being there no matter how far away you are. Mahal kita!