Some people believe in an afterlife, others don’t. Some people believe in a final judgment and physical resurrection, in heaven and hell, others don’t. Some people believe in reincarnation, others flatly deny even the possibility of it.
There are people who believe that life is just an illusion without physical reality, others call those people crazy. Those who call themselves rational people believe that life begins at birth and ends with death and there is nothing more to it.
What you believe is your affair and I am not going to attempt to change your believes. Whatever makes you comfortable you should stick with. That is your privilege. I am not even going to try to tell you what exactly I believe in, simply because I am fairly ambivalent about my own believes.
But I will tell you about a few of my own personal experiences and let you draw your own conclusions about my believes. Of course your conclusions about my believes might be way off target and in no way can influence them, but if after making your own conclusions you wish to modify your belief, that is your affair too… your privilege, the same way as it is also your privilege to stick to your believes come what may.
I will start with a miniature teddy bear of about 60 mm or 2.5 inches tall. You may ask, what the heck has an inanimate object; a mere toy got to do with life after death… and I will tell you to hear me out. Of course if you are an immovable sceptic, it is your privilege to stop reading and remain firmly rooted in your belief or disbelief.
I start with the teddy bear, because it started a train of thoughts. Interestingly that train of thoughts seem to have ramified and started spreading a little in cyberspace. I see you are puzzled, so let me try to explain.
The teddy bear I am referring to entered my life on my sixth birthday as a birthday present from my father. That was in February 1940. By now, if by some miracle that teddy bear still exists somewhere, it must be a very old and very worn little teddy bear. The likelihood is, however, that the teddy in question no longer exists. In a moment of rush and confusion it was left behind in Vienna in November 1956, about an hour before my wife and I boarded a train, carrying Hungarian refugees from Vienna towards England.
From the foregoing - by now - you must have figured out that I was no longer a child when I lost that teddy bear. So what was a married man, a final year dental student, a refugee on the run after a futile and crushed uprising, doing with a miniature teddy bear?
Almost exactly four months after I received teddy as a birthday present, my father passed away.
The innocence of my childhood ended that day and a hitherto happy sheltered life started turning into a perpetual nightmare. Consequently that teddy became my closest friend and almost permanent companion. It was with me throughout the Second World War, except through one winter, when I lost it in the late autumn of 1943 and found it under the melting snow the following spring. In my adolescent years, when a painful rejection left me broken hearted, I wrote at least two or three poems to teddy, as a relief from heartache. Teddy was with me during school and University examinations, it was in my pocket when I married my wife.
It - or rather He - had a personality and a soul… that is how I remember him. He was my companion, my best friend and the only tangible link to my father I loved and missed badly. Teddy was the only valuable - or rather - priceless possession I carried with me into exile. And I lost him in Vienna. To any sane and rational grown up person this would have been the end of the story. I make no apologies about my insanity or irrationality. There is no excuse. None the less I was devastated and inconsolable about his loss.
Life teaches many hard lessons. None very much harder than being a penniless refugee, settling down in a strange country, learning a new language, new customs, new way of life, whilst working, finishing studies at college, adapting to new ways of thinking and bringing up a newborn child, all at the same time. I will not go into details here, but you can take it from me that the pressures were not inconsiderable. Under such circumstances the loss of a tiny teddy bear was the least of our problems.
Just to prove my insanity, irrationality and immaturity, I wrote a couple of letters to our last known address in Vienna, enquiring about teddy, hoping that they would have found him and forwarded him to me. I never received a reply. It was some years later when I found out that the Viennese people in general are not very interested in “auslanders”, (foreigners) especially the penniless refugee kind.
I had no option, but to forget about teddy for a while. But by 1962, after we just settled into our first home of our own, established our own surgery and acquired the first few native friends – friends who stayed true to this day – and we were awaiting, with keen anticipation, the arrival of our second child,
the memory of teddy started to surface again.
My wife – naturally – knew all about that teddy bear, knew what it meant to me and was aware of my sense of loss. So, one day about the time our second child, a baby daughter arrived, I received a miniature teddy bear as a present and consolation for the lost one. The new teddy bear was almost identical to the old one; it was a gesture from the heart and was received with gratitude… Of course it could never quite take the place of the one I lost. But it was accepted as a new member of our new family, established on the strange shores of misty Albion, from the ashes of a cataclysm that decimated and scattered my old family.
As it was definitely not intended to be a toy for the children, but rather a “strange” companion to a grown up professional man, who – by now – was quite well known to many people of a suburban community, as well as in solid professional circles, it raised some eyebrows and some curiosity about both the teddy bear and its “master”. Questions were being asked and answered candidly. And then, one day, another miniature teddy bear arrived as a gift from a patient, then slowly over the years more and more arrived from friends and family members. I was both nonplussed and touched by these gestures. But it was not until I recently posted the English rendering of one of my early poems written “To my Tiny Teddy Bear” and received some comments that suddenly something had clicked.
I quote parts of seven separate comments below:
“…so true about how our favourite friends when we grow up, waiting sadly in solitude. What a sweet precious collection to have. And each one of them from your father's heart. How totally Special and a Treasure I'll always remember…”
“…touching write and thank you for the information that brings the whole write directly into the heart of all who read it…”
“To speak from the heart is a special gift……This tender, pensive write tugs at mine... …it was no coincidence that I received notice of your new poem when I had what I deemed "a bad day". Remembering you put it in perspective…”
“…so beautiful and heartfelt! what a lovely write; so good to see you posting here again; i have missed you, dear friend!…”
“...sweet write my friend...love n luck..”.
“…expressive poem about a symbol of love…”
“…i love the added information you tend to give with your writings, it makes it that much more enjoyable…”
“…And each one of them from your father’s heart…” So, is there life after death?
When my father died a strange chain of events occurred to me, the memory of which had stayed with me very clearly all through my life.
The night he was taken to hospital I had a dream of him being taken away in an ambulance. I woke up with a terrible premonition and fear of losing him. Two days later when he passed away and my Grandmother collected me from nursery school, the moment I set eyes on her I knew that father had died.
Nobody around me had the strength to tell me what had happened. They did not have to; I knew.
From that night onwards, for a long period of time, certainly for several weeks, every time I closed my eyes and went to sleep, I was with my father. It was so real to me that I went into, what I can only describe now as, a state of reverse existence. The dreams felt like reality and the day’s events appeared as bad dreams. I was both disturbed and reassured by these experiences and it was many-many years later when I found out that these “reverse states of existence” were not a unique and unheard of phenomena. Other people experienced similar occurrences after the loss of a loved one.
Several times during the war, when I was in extreme danger, I felt very strongly my father’s protective presence, without ever catching sight of him or ever hearing any voices. Nothing tangible, just a very strong feeling that sent shivers down my spine.
His foresight of the cataclysmic events to come - when Hitler was rising to power and he refused to allow the ritual of the “covenant”, (Brith Millah = circumcision) performed on me - saved my life on two occasions, whilst on the run from the Nazi “killing machine”. There has never ever been any question in my mind about his presence and protection during those dangerous times, however irrational this may sound.
The odd thing is, that I don’t consider myself to be an irrational person; neither am I superstitious, nor religious in the sense of following any established religious teachings. I walk my own path. Not for me are the communal worships and religious dogmas of any of the established institutional religions. My believes, whatever they are or may be, are based on personal experiences, observations and studying nature, as well as relying on some personal intuitions. I don’t follow, I don’t lead; I walk alone and I am totally at ease and happy with that. If I am on the wrong path, I alone bear the responsibility for it. If I am on the right one, I expect no praise, no glory, no salvation, nor the hallelujah choir. I am at peace within and will take whatever is to come, if indeed there is anything to take or anything to come.
The comments I received and quoted above opened my eyes to the possibility that my “Tiny Teddy Bear” is perhaps more than just a symbolic link to my father. I lost the original teddy bear twice.
Once it resurfaced from under the snow, the second time, when I thought I finally and irrevocably lost it, it resurfaced again as a gift from the heart that eventually brought in a family of teddy bears… “My other family”… a gift of love, a symbol of renewal after death, after terrible losses… and my other family seem to be growing in intangible and mysterious ways.
I am a very old fashioned person. In “classical” times writers, authors seldom if ever received personal comments from readers, with the exception of professional critics, editors and publishers. With very few exceptions writers were not “celebrities”, not generally known as individual persons by the wider public. It has never been my intention to elicit comments when I started posting here at AD. In fact the first comments so surprised me, that in a panic I withdrew almost all my postings, certainly all the poems. It was not on account of the comments being unfavourable or insulting either, quite the contrary.
With the comments received recently under the poem “To My Tiny Teddy Bear” came the realisation that these “cyber” messages of “touching hearts”, over the distances in cyber space, are the equivalents of receiving “token teddy bears” from members of “my other family”, adding to my collection of teddy bears – albeit virtual ones this time - and thus increasing the numbers of “my other family”… direct “from my father’s heart”… a quiet unassuming, but at the same time reassuring message from beyond the grave.
The original Tiny Teddy Bear was a gift, a token of love from my father. It had a tangible presence, a tangible physical existence in my life for over sixteen years. With it came an intangible spiritual presence too. That physical existence came to an abrupt halt, when I lost him in Vienna. Miraculously, about six years later this tiny companion “reincarnated” as a gift, a token of love; this time from my wife directly, but indirectly perhaps from “my father’s heart”… Then over the years more tokens of love swelled the ranks of “my other family”. Symbols of constant renewal. Gifts of love.
Contrary to superficial appearances, the power of love is stronger than hate. It is the very essence of life and since we can safely assume that life is not confined to earth alone, we may come to the conclusion that love permeates the entire Universe. We may not fully understand the meaning, the essence of love, we may be confused at times about it, but almost without a single exception we experience the feeling, we strive for love, to love and to be loved. Conception and birth are “labours of love” the very essence of renewal, the essence of life. The “hormonal” manifestations and aspects of love often cloud and at times interfere with the essence and the consequential confusion and turmoil can turn love on its head and even manifest as hate… the other side of the coin, that can be flipped easily.
Given the willingness of an open mind and open heart, love tends to prevail. There is an enormous power in a smile, a gesture, a touch, a word that can all express love and elicit a likewise response.
The power is within all of us and if we use it wisely and deliberately it can shift mindsets, open other hearts and minds and yes, it can change the landscape, the entire world, maybe even the entire Universe. Can love transcend physical death, can it reach out of the grave, out of a different dimension to touch us and inspire us? I believe it can and if that sounds irrational, then I shall wear the stigma of irrationality willingly and without shame.
What you believe is your affair and I am not going to attempt to change your believes. Whatever makes you comfortable you should stick with. That is your privilege… But I told you about a few of my own personal experiences and let you draw your own conclusions about my belief. If after that you wish to modify your belief, that is your affair too… your privilege, the same way as it is also your privilege to stick to your believes come what may.
In my personal experiences love survived death, not once but many times, manifested in intangible subtle ways, opened hearts and minds, pointed forward, given strength, purpose and gave me “my other family”… a family that now includes a “cyber fraternity” across boundaries and continents, each member a token “Tiny Teddy Bear”, a symbol, a gift of love, straight from my “Father’s Heart”… and I will not spell out, nor explain how I feel about, or what I mean exactly by “my Father’s Heart”. This too is your privilege to make your own mind up about and reach your own conclusions… if you wish to…
© P. J. Oszmann (2005)
© Illustration: Digital photograph reduced in Photoshop.
My humble thanks and appreciation to all those lovely people – fellow writers – whose words I quoted above and who helped to open my eyes to something I should have been aware of long before.
I am truly grateful.