Today the writing is going to be hard.
Today, expressing what I’m feeling is going to be difficult because this is one of those days when my feelings are all over the place, being pulled this way and that.
On the one hand, I want to salute young Oscar Knox and the people who loved him, and were there with him, for being brave beyond the point of ordinary endurance.
I want to pay tribute to their courage, and their love, and remind them they are not alone.
Words can do that sometimes. Yet, they feel inadequate to this task, maybe because I do. I can write the most flowery sentences that will flow from my brain, to my fingers to the keyboard. If I can sort out my own mess of emotions I can do that, but today part of me wants to just pull the curtains, switch everything off and sit in the dark for a while.
I sit here and think, and I type. What good, what possible good, could words do at this time? We, all of us, can sit here and write the most vivid prose, the most heartfelt condolences. We can send them on to those who’re in pain.
Yet the world never runs out of funeral cards, and hallmark sentiment is cheaper than happy hour beer. “We are sorry for your loss.” “You are in our thoughts.” “We are thinking about you.” All true, I’m sure, all written with feeling. But so what? Our sympathy makes not one iota of difference, it does not change a single thing, it does not make the sky less dark or the picture more clear and it doesn’t bring back those who have gone.
When I heard the news this morning about little Oscar it was that, the monetary stab of anger, that got to me to switch on the computer. I thought about those quotes and I wasn’t inspired. I was pissed off instead, and I’m still kind of pissed off.
Why should a young boy at that age have to show heroism like that? Why should Oscar have needed to be that brave for five minutes, far less the “five minutes longer” which have made him such a part of our lives? Why should a kid have to go through something as awful as this? Is courage really a form of salvation, and if it is, how exactly does that work?
Because, to me, children aren’t supposed to have this kind of courage. They are not supposed to need it. We live in a terrible world where this is one of the requirements of childhood.
Why should a family have to struggle on in the face of this? What’s our existence about if good people are tested in such a way? Where’s the salvation for them? Where is the ending where they get to see their son grow up?
Yeah, the anger is still there. The sense of frustration, the sense of “what are we supposed to do now?, the hundreds of questions, which all come down to the same question really, the one a lot of us will be asking ourselves today; what is the damned point?
Then I remember, because then it dawns on me, that this, this right here, this is the point. The anger is part of the process. The frustration is perfectly natural. This is what love is, this is how you feel when someone special, someone important to you, is gone.
It dawns on me then, on me right now, that this is what it’s about, this is what we’re all about, this is the real tribute to Oscar Knox, that someone who never met him, who knew his name from the internet, who read his dad’s heartfelt blogs, who conversed with him on Twitter a couple of times, but who’s interaction was limited to that, to observance from distance, should feel like this today, as if no distance existed, as if I had met these people for myself.
I suspect I’m not alone. I imagine people across the world are, today, feeling the same numbed shock. It doesn’t matter whether we met the wee man or not, because he was part of us anyway. That heroism and that courage touched us regardless.
We followed his story, from near or far, and we crossed our fingers and we said our prayers, and we didn’t expect a happy ending but we hoped for one, and in our way we braced ourselves for a day like today, knowing it would hurt when it came, and it does. It really does.
Yes, the pain is there with the anger, each vying to be the over-riding emotion I feel today, but both are overwhelmed by another one, one I didn’t expect, and it’s this one that pulls me towards it, that wants to be how I choose to remember and pay my respects.
There are rare people in the world, people who are like candles in the dark. They illuminate their surroundings, and we can see their light from afar. I sometimes think about the times in which we live, where that darkness weaves and creeps around us, where cynicism and despair are, for many people, the default positions they adopt for their lives, and my heart is glad for the flicker of those candles and I feel the ache when one of them dies away.
Oscar Knox was one of them. His light was bright enough to be seen a world away. What we feel at his loss wants to pull us all into that black hole of grief and despondency, but that would be the ultimate tragedy, and his story has had too much of that already.
Those who did know Oscar, who did have the sublime pleasure of spending time with him and his family, have spoken to me about him, and about them, in the same awed tones, the same love and affection, and every single one of them, on every single occasion, did so with a smile. They are not haunted by the memories of a boy in a hospital bed, unable to smile or enjoy simple pleasures, although I am sure he had such moments.
No, those who have spoken about him did so with joy in their hearts, the joy at having known him, at having seen him, at having loved him. They were gladdened by the memories of a happy and joyful child, one who knew more about those simple pleasures than most of us ever will, who experienced life in a way that our own sometimes jaded outlook will not allow.
Oscar Knox was surrounded by love his whole life, and in his passing that love remains. It does not die, because love itself is immortal. For all the brutality in this world, for all people talk about “monuments to hate” love is the one thing that outlasts everything else, and we sometimes forget that when we are lost in the moment. Enmity is forgotten by history. Rivalry is devoured and made irrelevant by change. Anger fades, until it is no longer significant and hate itself is an awful, colossal and exhausting waste of time and energy, which is why it cannot be sustained.
Love energises and inspires. It lifts our hearts, and our spirits and it’s that which makes those candles burst into life in the first place. No-one ever lit a candle to anger or kept one burning out of spite. No eternal flame will ever symbolise an enemy who’ll never be forgotten or forgiven.
Oscar was surrounded by love, and it grew outward from the centre like a wall of light, and it brought a smile of joy and a feeling of warmth to every person it touched. The candle might have gone out, but all of us carry a little bit of that light inside us, and the best tribute I can pay to Oscar is that today I know that, and I am grateful the world ever had him in it, for giving that to everyone who was touched by his time here.
As human beings, none of us is born exactly right. There’s a part of all of us that belongs to the darkness. What Oscar did is remind us all that part of us also belongs to the light, and that of the two the light is stronger, and more enduring. The good we do, the happiness we bring, the love we introduce to the world … it is what remains of us when we’re gone, in the memories of others, in how they feel when they remember us.
So today we hold on to the light. Oscar Knox is gone, much too young and much too soon, but the light will never go out, because it’s inside us and we carry it. No matter what it is we’re doing, or where we go, or the troubles in our own lives, part of Oscar will be there, and I for one will try to remember that most on the days when my own life seems shrouded and gloomy.
I will try to remember that there was once a boy who got out of bed every day in spite of the pain and wanted to play in the sun. That he kept on smiling when most of us would have wanted to cry. I will try to remember that his family responded to his illness with hope rather than despair. I will try to remember the people who became part of his life because he touched something good in them and that he inspired their own capacity to love.
Love is what you leave behind you Oscar, and that is everything.
Mother Teresa said “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” I can get behind that.
Gone, but not forgotten, Oscar. You leave behind a world that is a little less bright because you’re no longer in it but a better place than it was before you were here. For you, there is no more pain and no more hurt. You are with the angels who sent you to us.
Rest in Peace little man, and love and respect to those close to you, those you leave behind.
We will never forget you.
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