A numbing news made its way to me on Sunday evening through an SMS. Honestly, most of us knew this would eventually happen but just refused to be prepared for it. Dear Reggie uncle had passed from his temporary home after more than a year of fighting cancer with much grace and patience. I’m pretty sure he was ready because cancer or not, he always lived life one day at a time and never wanted to plan far too ahead.
Being a professor, a writer and a wonderful human, uncle had touched the lives of many, and gently influenced mine too. I wanted so badly to bid farewell to uncle and see his face for one last time, but couldn’t make it. But I did go on a quick trip home to meet his family and friends a couple of days ago in his thanksgiving prayer gathering. My, what a blessing it was. I’m sure everyone carried back not just great memories of him but also lessons for a lifetime. This one line that uncle’s sister-in-law mentioned while talking about his life and death has stayed with me.
Reggie, you showed us how to live. Now, you’ve also showed us how to die. What more can we ask for?
As I was struggling to find words to comfort his wife, dear Caroline aunty, I was once again amazed by how gracefully she handled everything, though it was too big a loss for her. She said, “Pearlyn, I’m so glad you are here. I was even thinking about making you talk today. But with lots of things going on, I couldn’t coordinate.”
Oh aunty, how I wanted to talk, not exactly before a gathering, but to uncle himself. How I wished to sit and talk with him and tell him how he not only has a way with words, but also a way without words. How he was not only a great teacher in the class, but outside the classroom too. How I never finished the letter I started writing for him when I knew he was sick. Oh how I wish.
As I reminisce moments with uncle, here are the ones that stand out. His beautiful “Hello,ma” with which he has always greeted me. His soft yet authoritative voice was to me a perfect oxymoron. Our conversations were limited but rich. I had what I would call the honour of translating one of the articles that uncle had written. He had strong diction over both Tamil and English, but still, uncle and aunty were always supportive of up and coming writers, and hence my chance. Uncle had such brevity in his writing, with the right amounts of humour infused in it so as to not dilute the essence. It was a huge challenge achieving the same in my translation, but I was so very excited. I put my very best into it but I was also ready for uncle to tear it part by part, because how else will I learn? But what he did was beyond my understanding. He printed out my copy and edited it with a pencil and called it suggestions, not corrections. He could have very well taken a red pen and made the corrections even without consulting me, but he didn’t. He treated it as if it were my own piece, though it was just a translation. His words of appreciation were more than what I deserved. Uncle was an encourager all along.
There was also this one time my writing got published in a national daily. We met many months later, when he remembered and expressed how happy he was to see my name in print. He said wonderful things about the piece and insisted that I keep writing such satirical pieces. “I read your article to my class as an example of a great short piece. You should definitely keep writing, we need people like you. And I started typing a long mail to send you. But I never got to complete it, but good that we’ve met in person now”, he said. I wish I could read his half finished mail now, just like I wish he would read mine.
I’ve also observed what a loving husband and father uncle was. He was the unsung hero who always pushed aunty to do more for Christ and also supported her along the journey. When I used to volunteer at their office, uncle would get us lunch along with his favourite chicken and also hot and fresh snacks for the evening. His hospitality was overwhelming, yet he did it so subtly and without attracting attention. I’m filled with a blend of emotions right now. Of course there is sorrow, but I am also immensely happy and grateful that I got to learn from him.
Dear Reggie uncle, thank you for mirroring Christ to us. I know you wouldn’t like us saying that we want to live like you, but we really do. Thank you for all the love and appreciation. Everything I ever write, I attribute it to you. We will try to live a life worthy of heaven, so that one day, we will meet in Christ and worship together.