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Category: Reflections Date: 25 Dec 95

It is propitious that this column falls on New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow is the first day of 1996. New Year resolutions, along with Auld Lang Syne are a ritual - of shedding the last year’s husk, a reminder of the march of time, mortality - so at that final stroke of midnight we cling to each other, shout and sing over our fears as if to convince ourselves that we are immutable, solid.


And perhaps once the hangover’s over, you may find yourself in a period of your life when you are able to look back at your life with few regrets and a good deal of satisfaction. Like the middle aged man in Dereck Walcott’s poem Life After Life which I have to paraphrase while I look for it. ‘A time will come when you will take down the old love letters from the shelf, sit at your own table and feast on your life.’ What a delightful idea. Here are your children, your grandchildren perhaps, and these are your trophies, and look here is a marble, smooth and pure, it may remind you of the time when you stood up to tyranny, or contributed to a bit of justice, or did a talented piece of work, and these are the scars which in the end did not rent you apart but made you stronger.


But the celebration may be tarnished. These are your regrets - this ugly little worm, for the times you stayed silent when you should have spoken, the times you took the credit for a deed or an idea that was not yours, for envy which turned you mean, for greed, for taking unfair advantage, for not doing the right thing. But this is a new year - don’t dwell on that. Who does not take a deep breath, as we do with each anniversary say “I’ve done it - for yet another year”. I’m a survivor.


I could not find Walcott’s poem (had a deadline to meet) but was lead instead to a slim volume of four, five paragraph vignettes by another poet and writer, Canadian Margaret Atwood, it was unread when I lost it about a year ago. I rescued its twisted spine from the weight of an old hairdryer. It is titled Murder in the Dark. Atwood’s books are all so intellectually lustrous, warm and palpitating, freely creative that I wonder about this title which sounds like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. I read the first story. It is made up of five paragraphs which begins:

 “When I was five my brother and I made poison...”

It was a childish concoction of urine, dead mice, toadstools and mountain ash berries. She can’t remember what they did with it except they did not put any in anybody’s food. “There was no one we hated enough, that was the difficulty.” But what remains unsaid is that what if they hated someone enough to administer it to them. What if they were adults when they made it? Then her astonishing conclusion. “Why did we make the poison in the first place? I can remember the glee with which we stirred and added, the sense of magic and accomplishment. Making poison is as much fun as making a cake. People like to make poison. If you don’t understand this you will never understand anything.”


We like making poison. Yes. It’s true. Children do it, we all do it, and yet we are so indignant when we actually come across it, and like me write about “doing the right thing”. Turn our noses up at it and turn puritan. She tells the truth. I trust her. I skim through the other stories until I come to the story where she writes about the third eye. It is an eye which most of us have but don’t trust. “Open it and it sees, close it and it doesn’t... That wasn’t really F, standing on the corner, hands in his overcoat pockets, waiting for the light to change: F died two months ago. It’s a trick my eyes played on me, they say. A trick of the light. I’ve got nothing against telepathy, said Jane; but the telephone is so much more dependable.” Atwood writes there are some who resent the third eye because to them it shows only the worst scenery “the gassed and scorched corpses at the cavemouth, the gutted babies, and closer to home, the hearts gone bubonic with jealousy and greed, glinting through the vests and sweaters of anyone at all. Torment they say and see. The third eye can be merciless especially when wounded.” So it’s this damned third eye that does not allow for pure optimism, which blocks my pretty view, spoils my pleasure at midnight.


The next and final paragraph explains why it is important to acknowledge the torment, which scratches our silky facade of niceties and subterfuge, at our unreal smiles. “But someone has to see these things. They exist. Try not to resist the third eye. It knows what it’s doing.” Leave it alone and it will show you that this truth is not the only truth. But the third eye can see beyond the torment. For those who are courageous enough to acknowledge it, it will also reveal a gentler life affirming truth. “One day you will wake up and everything, the stones by the driveway, the brick houses, each brick, each leaf of each tree, your own body will be glowing from within, lit up so bright you can hardly look. You will reach out in any direction and you will touch the light itself.”


This was my epiphany in this season of goodwill.

Happy New Year.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur