Saturday, March 19, 2011

On Visiting Newclare Cemetery

I had just one wish on my birthday in February this year, and that was to visit the grave of my maternal grandfather. Perhaps it was a frivolous wish and so the universe put to the test just how much I wanted to go there. And maybe to figure out why...
And so a whole month later, on the 13 March, I finally made my way to the Newclare cemetery in Johannesburg, with my brother and a friend.
The experience was probably more profound than I had the humility to anticipate.
I think we'd been there as kids. I had only vague recollection. But it all didn't make much sense back then.
Here was a man we had never known, but heard of in so many anecdotal references along the years. And so we had over the years, pieced together a character with likes and tastes and moods. The stories overlapped from the lips of my mom, my dad (who knew him because, as it happens, my maternal and paternal grandfathers were cousins somehow) and from other family members.
My grandmother rarely speaks of him. In our shared moments, on occasion and when probed, she has said to me that losing him felt as though a light went out in her life. But the metaphor was rather literal as well. She said it was just as quickly as that. You flip the switch on a light and it's gone! Wrapped in this narrative of reverance and deep sense of loss, that was all I've had to work with over the years. Needless to say, there's always been the unspoken 'what-if' of what life would have been like if he really had been around today. But I'm understand that the passage of time here is finite. And so the wonderings dissolve.

In this very same cemetery, an old and peaceful stretch of land that has long been filled to it's capacity, is to be found a section of child graves. A few paces apart are each of my grandmother's sons: one born in May 1954, and having passed away in Dec 1956 and Baby M born/died in 1961. Little is known about their medical conditions. Or maybe just little spoken about their demise. And my mom was too little to remember much.
A simple green and white board over my grandfather's grave indicates a timeline for his life 1928-1969. Emotion overwhelms me. Not an inherent sadness, but a peaceful joy. It's as though the physical manifestation of years of stories is made apparent right then and there. It's as though time has drawn a line for me from all the many images that brought into existence lifetime's before I came into being, and that will continue to dot between our generational paths long after my time on this earth has passed. And perspective flashes as lightning; my view is transformed at once. There is no devastation at present; rather we are measured in the way we are able to intercept and transcend the challenges placed before us.

Peace is a place inside.
It is also a sense of belonging to ones self.
Knowing that we're just one dot on that line. That a thread exists before us and that it moves effortlessly, inevitably ahead.

My birthday wish is complete.



Zarina Hassem said...

Shafinaaz- Thanks for posting this- There is so much meaning in your words. We often look for complicated answers to life, when sometimes the true meaning of things can be found in simple occurrences. Our elders are more connected to us than we think, their lives were so simple and yet they have so much to teach us. Your grandfather may be gone, but I am sure that you will always be connected to him, even though you've never met him.

May Allah grant him jannatul firdoze and keep him resting in peace Inshaa'Allah

Nikita Banerjee said...

I am moved to tears. I was never close to my grandpa because I never knew him really. I want to now and there is nothing I can do. I envy you, at least you went to be by his grave. Something of him lingers on...I have nothing. :D

Thank you for sharing.