I once took an ailing linguist in 2009 to an ATM machine to withdraw cash and he thanked me profusely for it. Of course, at that time I did not know he was ailing. He seemed fit as a fiddle, even though I saw him sleeping during a couple of talks at the conference. I wrote that off by thinking that is what people do at conferences anyway, doodle, dream, or sleep. He was one of our invited speakers. His talk was exceptional, the kind you want to listen to even though your specialization is not in his field of expertise, in this case, phonology and tonal theory. He spoke on aspiration in Nepali that day. He had accepted our invitation and visited us from Paris, his first visit to India. His walk was fragile, with a little tenderness as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He ate little, had no beverages during coffee breaks, and spoke very little.
He died six months later in Massachusetts, of cancer. Unceremoniously enough, since none of us knew at the conference about his physical frailness. I wonder what difference it would have made, if I had known about his illness? Would I have felt he was tired and had to take a nap because of his medicines, when I saw him sleeping at a talk? Would I have taken him in a car instead of an auto to the ATM machine? Maybe we could have been kinder in the harsh Hyderabad weather, or the city's busy-ness, made his stay a little warmer and more enjoyable. Maybe we could have provided better food, more bland, more healthy. Or maybe, just a little bit more love.
I cannot forget his immensely kind words of gratitude after I took him to the ATM machine, nor the warm mail he sent my professor thanking me again for having done so. It reminds me of the impermanence of things, of people. Imagery floating past me like the bustling landscape rolling by from a train window. The people we meet today may not be there tomorrow. People come into your lives and go out of it even faster. The things we cherish and hold close will become dust tomorrow. Nothingness covers your languid existence. Life then, like a stone, rolls on by year after year, centuries after centuries.