As children we never ever contemplated a time when our parents wouldn't be around. Death was alien to us at an age when time seemed to stretch infinitely ahead of us. We eagerly awaited milestones such as birthdays and proudly announced the imminence of each. We volunteered information such as how old we would be come May or December. The disclosure was made with great pride in what we viewed as an accomplishment.

Many aeons later, I look back on that magical time when birthdays were welcome, not dreaded reminders of one's mortality and the inexorable march of time.

I hear of the demise of a friend's father and wonder when the clock started ticking so fast. How did time slip by without our noticing its passage? Was it like counting the hours but being unable to track the seconds? As the friend takes time to grieve, unable to reconcile herself to her great loss, I am struck by the ebb and flow of the tide of life.

Another pal is on a self-realisation trip, attending retreats conducted by a Vietnamese monk and learning about the joy of living life fully and how to greet our own death and that of our loved ones with compassion and equanimity. The experience also includes lessons on realising liberation and joy in each moment, how to deal with anger, jealousy and trauma and how to nurture the best qualities in our children, spouses and friends.

The process of transformation and healing oneself, she says, can be a resource for the transformation and healing of others. She speaks of food for the soul and says she wants all of us to know what she is as a result of what has been happening to her. The insights she has gathered is what she wants to share with us.

Her thoughts are echoed by yet another in our close group of mates. This one says she can empathise with the quest for self-knowledge, which is akin to what has been happening to her in small bits through conversations with people. She envies the friend who has obviously reached a higher level of consciousness and dwells at length on the clarity of that person's path of inquiry and understanding, comparing the search to her own path which is dappled by moonlight and visible in very small fragments now and again. Reading these e-mails makes me feel unworthy since I have not even started on this spiritual journey or if I have, I am not conscious of doing so or of reaching any mind-blowing conclusions.

Coping with life

Both agree, however, that earlier none of us were interested in such things but now the thirst is more clearly defined. It definitely has to do with age and circumstances in life which lead us to certain truths or realisations. Our ignorance of the pain to come is only matched by our ignorance of the maturity to come.

The friend who has recently lost her father joins in the debate, saying in her succinct style that although she doesn't go to retreats she reads inspiring books which have helped her cope with life and see things more clearly.

What I do know is that life teaches us acceptance of others and ourselves. We learn not to jump to hasty conclusions and to make allowances for the behaviour of others. There is some introspection involved in this growing up process as we try to fathom the unfathomable. We experience the loss of loved ones and seek the solace of memories of when we were young and blissfully unaware of the existence of sorrow. We lived each day as it came, never looking back but always with our sights set firmly ahead. Tomorrow couldn't come soon enough as we anxiously waited for events to unfold, certain that all changes would be for the better.

However trite it may sound, life is a journey. We might regret the path not taken but realise that even that was a choice we made. So, the wistful what-ifs and if-onlys are a pleasant way of whiling away time but we are creating life in every moment we live it.