No one wants to die and be forgotten forever. Everyone wants to leave a footprint in this world when they die.
To be remembered.
Harimau mati meninggalkan belang.
Gajah mati meninggalkan gading.
Manusia mati meninggalkan nama.
It means, a tiger dies leaving its stripes, an elephant dies leaving its tusk, while a man or woman, dies leaving his or her name.
This old Malay proverb relates to a book I’m now reading, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Each chapter is a different story about different people. The first chapter is called The Last Words on Earth.
It tells a story of a Jewish man, Leo Gursky, a retired locksmith who lives alone in an apartment next to his childhood friend Bruno, who also lives alone.
Leo survived the holocaust but he lost his family. He thought he lost Bruno. Then one day, after 30 years, they found each other in New York where Leo lives.
Bruno then moved into the building where Leo lives. Each night Leo and Bruno knocked on their apartment’s heat radiator to tell each other that they are alive.
Three knocks means “I’m alive”.
One knock means “I’m dying”.
No knock means “I’m dead”.
Each day, Leo went out and meet people so that if he dies, someone would be with him.
Leo was writing a book, because he wanted his life story to be read by someone when he dies.
Leo had a weak heart and felt that he would die of heart failure. So he tried to burden his heart as little as possible.
With every pain and failure in life he redirected it to the other organs in his body.
Pancreas for everyone and everything he lost. Kidney for disappointments. Spine for pain of forgetting and for pain of remembering. Leo had a label for every organ.
Leo had a childhood sweetheart whose father sent to America to get a better life. He promised her he would save money to follow her later. Shortly, the Nazis raided his village in Poland, he lost his family and fled his country.
After three years as a refugee, he finally came to New York and met her. Only to find that she was married. She was pregnant with Leo’s child when she left Poland. Her employer’s son took her as a wife. Cared for her and her child as his own.
She thought that Leo had died when the Nazis attacked their village, because Leo stopped writing to her. He couldn’t write because he was on the run and was in hiding.
She named their child Isaac. Leo asked her to come with him but she couldn’t as she had a family now. Leo left, seeing that Isaac had a good life now.
Isaac grew up to be an author. Every time, Leo would come to his book signing. Every time he met his son, he couldn’t bring himself to tell Isaac that he is his father.
One night, a man called Leo in the middle of the night looking for a locksmith. Leo now retired, refused to come at first. But he relented as the man was locked out of his townhouse in the rain. The man turned out to be Isaac, his son.
One day, Leo finished writing his book. He decided to send it to Isaac, so that his son would not forget his real father. End of story.
Come to think of it, when I first started sharing my story, like Leo, I too didn’t want to be forgotten when I die one day.
When I was diagnosed with HER2 Positive Breast Cancer, I started writing my story and sharing it with others.
Like Leo, I too, want to leave a footprint in this world when I die. To be remembered.
Life is short. So many stories to tell, so little time to waste.