Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Word of Rememberance

I should have written and posted this two weeks ago.

A popular singer in China committed suicide on October 31, the eve of All Saint's day, followed by All Soul's Day, when the Church commemorates all the Faithful Departed. I learned the news from a Chinese blogger, who pointed out that the date, the birthday of her first husband, was key to understanding her final decision. She was deeply, deeply in love with him, who left her for another woman in showbiz. The bloggersphere was abuzz with speculations about the lingering hurt of the divorce, from which she apparently never recovered. She remarried in July of this year, to a fellow band member, who lent a shoulder during her depressed years. The marriage showed signs of strain just prior to her death. She was 39.

I knew virtually nothing about her. She became famous since I left China to live in the U.S. What makes the news different, even significant, is that she and I shared the same name. Our common family name puts us "in the same clan 500 years ago," as the customary, friendly jest goes in my birth country; our given name, are identical not only in sound, but in written form (or character) as well, a noteworthy occurrence, especially when one of us was famous. Some five years ago I flew back to China to visit my family. Upon entry at the Customs checkpoint in Beijing International Airport, the officer took notice of my name on my then Chinese passport, took an extra look at me, with a guessing smile asked slyly "Are you that famous singer?" Caught by surprise, I stuttered "Oh, oh, no, no, I'm not she." This sort of friendly, almost jolly, exchange at a Customs booth in China, almost never happens. In hindsight, I imagined that the officer, dutiful as he was, might have been a fan and let slip a youthful fancy.

The star singer was said to be "different," "strong-willed," "stood-apart,"and "original" in both personal style and her music. She suffered heartbreaks and depression from her divorce and the subsequent low points and hiatus in her career. She recently remarried, formed a new band, was seen performing with renewed gusto at a hip venue in the Capital city shortly before the fatal jump she took from a close friend's highrise apartment near the Olympic Parks.

My heart was dampened, even bruised by the reading of the news. The emotion surprised myself, as more and more I could hardly feel any sympathy over this kind of celebrity news. I shrugged them off as cheesy, cheap, and sensational. I find it harder and harder to work up empathy faced with all the stupidity and cruelty relentlessly dished up and piled upon our psyche in the daily news cycles, even when they are genuine events deserving our concern and outrage. Like Andy Warhol's electric chairs, repeated and recycled, absent of humanity, the shock of cruelty is replaced by numbness.

The sadness I felt for the singer went beyond narcissism due to our shared names. I've been reading The Divine Comedy, in which Dante places a suicide, Cato of Utica, in Purgatorio (Yes he DID put them in droves in Hell too, only to generate some of the most poignant dialogues between the Dead and the Living), bestowing him the high honor and dignity of a Guardian of the "antechamber" of Paradise. From the early stages of my acquaintance with Dante, I'm no stranger to, and share his susceptibility to pity, as I'm no stranger to the pit, the emptiness, and the despair of that place. As I grow in Christianity, the pity deepens by the increasingly stark contrasts with the Faith, the Hope, and the Charity on this side of things.

I indulged in fantasies that I could have helped: that I could go back in time, across the vast physical and psychological spaces, to the side of the girl; I imagined that I had just the perfect timing, the right tone, and the necessary eloquence and tenderness, to persuade her, to assure her, that life is worth living and enduring, that there are things bigger and sturdier than her love, her art, and her circumstances.

Would I have succeeded?

I said a rosary for her. Trusting that the Author of Life takes into consideration ignorance and grief overtaking reason, I prayed her peace and salvation, and bid farewell to my mourning.

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