I have been watching someone suffer for over a year. He finally gave up the struggle on Saturday morning. Facing death is a lens into our personhood. It also made me think about masculinity.
The women had what is called a ‘good cry’. At the end of the day, aside from the swollen eyes, they were looking more or less normal. That is not to say that they were not sad, but, having expressed their immediate shock and pain, they were able to sit up and look at life going on again.
The men, on the other hand, were running around for the paperwork that seems to suddenly come crashing after a death. They made numerous trips up and down, signed endless documents, and talked to countless people. They brought themselves to talk about such things as the morgue and cremation and wills. They carried the dead body that used to be a person they knew and loved and fed it into flames. And the next day, they gathered the ashes that were left and let them fall away. All of this, without a shudder or a murmur or a tear.
I was in that strange place…in limbo. I stayed home with the ‘other’ women and held them when they cried. And then I waited for the men to come home so we could carry out the cremation.
I’m not going to say anything new or earth-shattering. Just…how cruel it is for a person to HAVE to swallow his own grief and hold his family together, just because of his gender. I’m going to mangle an old saying into “Some are born strong, some learn strength and some have strength thrust on them.” It is the inadequacy of the social system that does not allow a person to be anything less (or more) than his/her role.
I followed the funeral procession of my uncle into the cremation ground. Four years ago, when my thatha died, I carried pieces of wood onto his pyre along with the men of my family. This Saturday, I laid the final garland on my uncle before we cremated him. And finally, we all stood, dry-eyed, straight-backed and talked over what was to be done next.
Perhaps I had a slight taste of what it takes to be the support structure. Society has placed men in these roles, from birth and they cope as best they can while trying to retain their individual sensibilities. The structures are shaking now, as we infiltrate their ranks. But it isn’t that simple, is it?
It is more than equal rights. It is more than education and voting and equal opportunity. It is about being strong, not having strength thrust on you.