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4: Death

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The first two people who died in our cell were two old ladies, sisters together in Bantjeuj. One was 81 years old and the other 73 years. I had never witnessed death before. When the 81 year old was dying, she talked incessantly while unconscious. What she said sounded very sweet. She kept thanking God for all the good things he had given her in her life and thanked Him for preventing her from lending "in the gutter." She kept mentioning "the gutter" and obviously she had been frightened throughout her life of ending up in it. One morning I woke up early, sat up and looked in her direction. She was lying with her back towards me on her side and I knew she was dead. This was strange because I could not see her face. Betty who was lying next to me and who was a few years older than I, woke up too and sat up. She whispered to me; "she is dead." I told her that I thought the same thing although, I was puzzled about why I thought so. There was a quiet lovely atmosphere in the cell in spite of flies, stench and ground water. She had indeed died. A week later her sister of 73 years was dying and the contrast between the two death scenes was very great. This one was cursing God while she was unconscious, blaspheming Him in foul language. We could not get away even for five minutes to be out of ear-shot. She was "demanding" things, which we were unable to give her and when she died it seemed that the temperature had dropped in the cell: we all shivered. It was as if demons had come in to fetch her soul. It in through this kind of death scene which I witnessed in 3 months, exactly 100 days, that I became convinced that there are invisible powers or consciousnesses [sic], dark and light angels who come and fetch the souls of a departed person. We all noticed the differences in the atmosphere. As we had nothing to do nor to read, we had all the time in the world to think and the topic which interested us most was religion, because we were confronted with life and death problems daily. We realized there were only two possibilities; either there is a God or there is no God! Every time I looked down at yet another dead body I was struck by the mystery of where that life-energy had gone, that part which had self-consciousness, which could reason and which made the body "alive." The body had not "disappeared" at the moment of death. How could the "person" which activated the body suddenly become "extinct?" It made no sense. If the law of indestructibility applies to all matter and to "energies", why would life-energy fall "outside" this law? To me it seemed like a driver who got out of his car, leaving his car behind, while he went elsewhere. Surely the driver is more important than his car. Admittedly without his car he can not drive around, but there are other activities he can do; walk, fly in a plane, swim etc. To walk this earth in these dimensions of ours we need a body, but just as one can get different wave-lengths on the radio without moving one's position, by simply turning different knobs, one realizes that different wave-lengths exist simultaneously and interpenetrate each other at certain points. But while you are tuned-in on one wave-length, you are not aware of what is going on on another wavelength, unless you switch over. So it makes sense that there could be other planes of existence, dimensions of which we are unaware, but which penetrate into ours. Some argued that we have no proof for God's existence, as if the whole of Creation, His handy-work is not a witness, proof of a Creator? The ones who professed to be atheists themselves are believers, because they "believed" that Creation has come into being by itself, out of nothing, which they could not prove either. To see the plan, a Divine Plan at work in this world, in nature, in the discoveries of science, is a witness in itself. Some said they could only believe in God once they had knowledge of Him, proof of Him. But how does one get knowledge of a person, when one wants to know the other person and enter into a relationship? Surely it starts with an act of faith, with trust and a desire to know the other. Then one not only looks at that person, trying to learn from expressions of their face and eyes, one also listens intently to what he has to say. Surely you can not get to know a person without him being willing to reveal his thoughts, his emotions, his invisible inner self to you. So to get knowledge and proof of this invisible God, don't we have to start by looking around us, at the stars, the trees, the birds, at all the manifestations of creation. Don't we have to learn through the sunsets through the eyes of children, what this invisible God is like, who expresses Himself in myriad ways? Should we not start trusting Him and "listening" in the hope that He will choose to reveal Himself to us by sharing with us some of His thoughts (to the extent that we can receive them). Surely trusting Him, depending on Him, asking Him for strength and guidance in the only way we will ever receive it, know Him to be trustworthy, and to be our source of window. If there is indeed no God then there will be no response, no guidance, no strength coming to Us. It is like tuning-in on a wavelength which does not exist. Faith is to believe in something which you cannot prove. you just act upon it. Through faith knowledge comes, if your faith is right and true. Even if you have faith in a falsehood, the results, the fruits of it, will be the proof of the falsehood of that faith.

In Bantjeuj we used to be interrogated. Sometimes in the middle of the night we were woken up by a torch and a commanding voice calling one of us to come out for questioning. On one occasion, my name was called out; my mother was very frightened and her whole body shook from fear. This affected me and made me tremble. My legs felt weak. I walked behind the uniformed warden and he led me to an enormous hall. At the end of the hall was a platform on which a table was set with four Japanese officers sitting around it. Huge whips lay across the table. My legs became like macaroni and I could hardly walk. When I entered the hall I noticed that the walls on either side of me were flanked with mirrors, so I saw my reflection and did not recognize myself at first. I looked on the verge of death, scraggy with very large hollow eyes. The thought struck me: well I haven't got such longer to live. Then came the realization that the Japanese with the ships were watching and awaiting me. I felt the cold sweat drip down from my shoulders down my back, and my face was wet with perspiration from fear. In despair my heart cried out to God; "please help me", while my mind remembered that Christ had promised us; "When they bring you before Councils do not contemplate what to say, but have faith and I will guide you in all your ways," and I also remembered His words, "He who puts his trust in Me shall not be made ashamed." An soon as I remembered those words and promise and prayed, an amazing thing happened to me. It was as if an invisible wall was formed circling around me. It seemed as if I was lifted an inch from the ground and instead of walking, I seemed to be gliding over the floor towards the Japanese. Their voices seemed to be coming from a distance, faraway. It was wonderful; I felt protected and the spirit of fear left me, giving way to a spirit of rest in my soul. It was as if I was in a little house in the midst of a raging storm, like Noah's Ark in the Flood. Noah, like me, was helpless and I think scared too in the face of the raging elements, but he "rested in the Ark" as I had to do. When I had reached the end of the hall, I saw one of the Japanese officers come down from the platform and start to walk around so, while he whipped the air. I saw that the whip had many corks at the end of each string to add sting, but I remained calm. Then he started putting questions to us in a mixture of Japanese, Malayan and English. I had to remember not to look in his face when I answered him, as I was a woman and he would slap we in the face if I did. This is what a Japanese man outside the prison would do to a woman if she looked into his face when she answered him. I tried to understand what he was asking as and quite definitely I was guided by someone, an angel perhaps, who know more about Japanese characters than I did, because I was made to understand by an inner voice. Thus I could answer the Japanese officer without letting him wait or making him repeat his question. He should not be made to feel that his inadequacy at speaking either Malayan or English was obvious. So even if I gave the wrong answer to his question, that gave him an opportunity to call we stupid and repeat his question in a different way. By myself, I would never have hit on this solution. Ho was pleased that I kept getting things wrong because of my stupidity and not due to his incomprehensible language. Suddenly he started asking me questions about my maternal and paternal grandparents. He wanted to know their full Christian names and dates of birth. I did not have any notion, as I had never known personally any of my grandparents. So a voice inside me told me "to make up" their Christian names and dates of birth. One of the Japanese officers at the table scribbled down my answers. Then suddenly after having asked me all sorts of other questions, he returned to the Christian names and dates of birth of my grandparents. As I could not remember them anymore, I made up new names and new birth dates. Nothing moved me to fear. His voice came from afar, although I know he was shouting at me. I knew what to say: "I did not know their names nor birth dates when you asked me before." He replied; "Why did you give false names and dates?" and I replied calmly looking at his boots, "Because I did not want to offend you with my ignorance." He shot into laughter as did the other officers, end then he went on with his interrogation. Finally he stopped and the warden was told to lead we back to the cell. An soon an I came out of the huge hall, my invisible wall left me. I seemed "to drop down" and could feel the ground again. Sounds came rushing towards me. Then I know for certain; God truly helps people in their distress, if they trust in His Word and remember that although man is not faithful always, this is not the case with God, who truly keeps his promises and He alone is the forever Faithful.

When I was back in the cell my mother was overjoyed that nothing terrible had befallen me, not even a slap in the face. How grateful she was, thanking and crossing herself (a practice among Russian Orthodox).


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