I know this is supposed to be a China-blog, but sometimes there are other things that take precedence over the Middle Kingdom and last month was just such a moment, when one of the most remarkable persons I have and will ever meet in this life came to pass away and started on his journey to the Yellow Springs. So for him, this posthumous tribute:
I have been thinking about what to write and how to write it, and slowly it is growing here inside my mind what I want to say, but one thing has been clear from the beginning: it had to be something I could send off, a bit like the message in the bottle that you throw in the sea, feeding the feeble but nevertheless real hope that someday, somewhere there will be a recipient at the other end. So what I still have left to say to you, I'll say it here on my blog, so that when I push that "publish" button when I'm all done and finished, I'll be left with the feeling that somewhere there will be an Inbox at the other side of that great divide between life and death that will say "You have mail".
I've chosen Le Grand Jacques to guide me along the words and thoughts. I think you wouldn't have objected to be in his company, so here is from me to you, my
"Brel-ude for a friend"
("Le Moribond"; Jacques Brel)
"Adieu l'Émile je vais mourir
C'est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs la paix dans l'âme"
How many times have you watched together with Els "The Legends of the Falls" ? Ten Times ? More ? It came as no surprise that you had us walk past your coffin and out of that chapel on the music of "The Legends ...". What else would you have chosen if not this ?
You've run into your bear, Luc.
It was YOUR bear.
He was called Cancer, and when he came upon you for the second time, you didn't stand a chance. Just like Tristan, you had evaded him already one time before. But once your blood got mixed with that of your bear, your fate was decided. In his second attack, he was out for the kill and killing is what he did ... but what a fight you have put up ! You were a worthy adversary for the fearsome creature. You nearly beat him ... but yet again the skin of the bear couldn't be sold before he was shot. Cancer's cruel paws mowed you down with no mercy ... yet he wasn't able to erase you. Nobody, no matter how powerful, will ever be able to erase you. The memories of you are carved all over the place, in the hearts of so many people who crossed your path, for a shorter period, like me and Feng, or for a long time already, like your family and others that were lucky. There's no defeating you, it couldn't be done even if one wanted to. The bear took your life alright, but you left us your legacy of what it means to be simply human, without much ado, and that legacy stands forever, till all those who have known you here have joined you at the other side.
It was difficult to die during Spring, Luc, "c'est dur de mourir au printemps ...", while you were still so much looking forward to the Summer, to share the last bottles of wine in the garden, to receive your last guests around the table on the terrace, to simply feel the sunshine a couple of more times on your smiling face, to spend a couple more days, hours, minutes with Els. Your wish wasn't granted, you knew it wouldn't be ... but you insisted to keep control over how you walked off the stage. And so it happened. May peace be with you when you walk around the flowerfields: you arranged all you could, the rest is up to us.
"On a vu souvent rejaillir le feu,
d'un ancien volcan qu'on croyait trop vieux.
Il est, paraît-il, des terres brûlées
donnant plus de blé qu'un meilleur avril ..."
("Ne me quitte pas"; Jacques Brel)
The volcano that was you will never erupt again, that is a fact of life (or death) that we have to face, yet your ashes will not go wasted. Last week I was listening to an interview with a Dutch popjournalist, Constant Meijers, who more or less introduced The Eagles to the Netherlands. He had interviewed them a couple of times, before they were the superband they became and one last time in the seventies, when they had hit the top of the charts already. So he asked the drummer of the band, Don Henley, what they would do to keep innovating themselves after the success they were meeting then, he asked "what would be their yardstick" to measure their own future music.
About 30 years later, at a concert of The Eagles in Amsterdam, Meijers was backstage when Don Henley after the concert came walking down the stairs. He caught a glimpse of Meijers, walked over and said: "Constant, we still have the yardstick".
When I just mentioned your "legacy", Luc, it was the same kind of yardstick I was thinking of. Everything we do from now, we'll be able to measure as to how it compares to you. You were no saint, we all know that, but you had your principles and you stuck to them. I believe you didn't just leave us that yardstick, but you actually passed it on, to Els, in whom we'll always find your image back. When she was standing next to your coffin, bravely reading her last parting words to you, saying that you had made her a better person, that was the first time I heard those words actually ringing true. I believed them as they were spoken. And I'm sure that she'll keep guard over that yardstick with the same devotion and intensity as you did during your life. The fields are burned, the earth is scorched ... your departing left an unerasable scar ... yet the seeds are in the ground, where you put them ... and they will bloom eventually, Luc. They will bloom.
"Laisse moi devenir l'ombre de ton ombre,
l'ombre de ta main,
l'ombre de ton chien,
Ne me quitte pas .... "
Leaving us is what you were forced to do and leaving us is what you did. It wasn't of your own choice and it was as hard for you as for any who went before you. Seldom have I seen anyone as addicted to life as you, but when time ran out, you were as ready as one can be. And so you went with great dignity... you wouldn't let life, or what was left of it, choke you to death. When time was there for the appointment you had set yourself with the ferryman that would bring you across, you just showed up ... and went with no looking back.
With yourself, you took away a friend, with whom it was fantastic to discuss books, movies, our favourite music, with whom every bottle of wine, every glass of whiskey was a moment of pure and intense joy.
You took away Feng's mentor, whom she enormously admired and whom she needed from time to time to put her back with her feet on the ground or to make her pursue what she started till the end.
You took away the mirror where we both only needed to take a look at to know what needed to be corrected or where we were lacking. Now that the mirror cracked, we'll have to do with the reflection of the light on those thousands of pieces that you have scattered around, so everyone that was dear to you can still enjoy the memory of who you've been and always will remain, albeit only in our memory. But what a fine memory it is ...
I'll never be able to live up to your standards, Luc. I didn't in your last days and I feel terrible about it.
I don't have the energy you possessed and which made you go on and on.
I don't have the passion which made everything you undertook seem so natural and easy, while I know it often was not.
I don't have what it takes to be "Luc" ...
but I can try ... and I will. I may never be good enough to come out of your shadow, but he who reaches even up to your knees is already to be considered a giant. I have a long way to go, but you have shown the direction. I couldn't have asked for more.
I've been asking myself again several times in the past period whether there is anything left after you cross the border from life into the black hole that is called death. It may or may not be. The truth is it doesn't matter: the border is not shut to memories, they keep and will keep flowing back from The Other Side, not hindered by any obstacles ... but time, but I hope that when the moment comes around that time has faded out most of the memories, I'll have harvested enough of those seeds you planted, for other people to enjoy ... enough for your memory to live on.
So here's the final goodbye, my friend: it's time to push the button, time to put the words into the bottle and throw them into sea. If they ever land up on your coast, you'll know how grateful I've been of having known you, for I was never able to express it properly during your life. If they don't, I'll tell you myself after I took the ferry. And I'll bring a full bottle then. Jameson. Don't you go changing your brand in the afterlife now ...