When Death Comes

When Death Comes

7 March 2013

 

 
This is a cartoon I was asked to do for a publication in Australia as a tribute to the recently late poet and friend John Pfitzner.
 
John died in his sleep very suddenly a few weeks ago, and his passing has left all those of us who knew him reeling.
 
I worked with John in my first full-time job in Adelaide at Openbook Publishers, where he was the senior editor. I was very junior at the time, but always found him to be a very warm and friendly person, with a terrific sense of humour.
 
A couple years ago we connected again on Facebook, and it was great to hear his story of becoming a poet and getting published. He talked of his evolving spiritual journey and also said he enjoyed my cartoons very much. That was the last contact we had, although I often heard about his poetic endeavours through relatives back in Australia.
 
Then, a few weeks ago, I got the shocking news. He had been at a Monday night discussion group with friends; talking, laughing and probably reading some of his new poetry. The next morning he didn't wake up. It was just one of those things.
 
Those of us who are still coming to terms with his death can be grateful for the small but significant body of poetic work he left behind, especially for the window it gives into the heart and soul of a truly alive human being.
 
One poem that is especially poignant is the one I paraphrased in the above cartoon. The full text of it is below. It speaks for itself, and gives great comfort to think that while his death was sudden and unexpected, he was totally ready for it.
 
We will miss you John. Thanks for the time we were able to share with you on this earth, and for leaving so many heartfelt words behind to inspire us. Rest in peace.
 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
 
When death comes
 
1.
When death comes,
like a tradesman turning up at the door,
apologising for not giving advance notice,
or perhaps for having kept me waiting,
 
I want to greet him as someone I've got to know over the years,
whose sometimes crude methods I haven't always approved of,
but whose crucial role in my life I've come to appreciate –
 
without his work over eons,
higher life forms couldn't have evolved
and I would never have been born.
 
I don't want to make things hard for him;
he'll be flat out, with bigger jobs to attend to
than disposing of me.
 
2.
When death comes,
like a transcontinental train pulling in to the station –
which I'll board without any carry-on luggage –
 
I want to sit with my back to the engine,
watching the receding scenery,
enjoying the view before the darkness of the tunnel.
 
I don't want to waste time
speculating about possible destinations.
 
3.
When death comes,
like removalists parking their van in the street,
come to take everything away,
 
I want to already have given a fond farewell to a lifetime of acquisitions,
happy to entrust them to others,
knowing that not all will be loved and kept.
 
I don't want to find, when everything else is gone,
that my innermost cupboard is bare,
swept clean of the ability
to be astonished, to be moved, to be human.
 
- John Pfitzner
October 2012
 
(An obituary for John by the South Australian Society of Editors can be found here.)