The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

Jonah could not stop for death

Jonah Lomu's former coach has paid tribute to him at a memorial service at Eden Park. (AFP PHOTO / FILES / LEON NEAL)
Roar Guru
19th November, 2015
19
1943 Reads

Jonah Lomu had passed away. In light of the Sam Burgess saga, I’d been trying to write an article about rugby’s cross code specialists. But the shocking piece of news that I read, as I was languidly going through my Facebook timeline, compelled me to set all that aside.

There was an immediate lump in my throat. He was rugby’s superstar – a man mountain, the unstoppable force, and arguably the most important player of the last 20 years, perhaps of all time.

He was with us just now, and now he is no more. It was all a bit surreal.

I’m not sure if many of you – or any of you – are familiar with Bollywood history, but here in India we had an actor named Rajesh Khanna, who is recognised as the ‘original superstar’ of Bollywood, due to 15 consecutive solo hit films in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

There were many great actors before him, but he was still the first icon, and it may not be too tenuous a comparison to liken Jonah Lomu to him.

Even though there had been numerous rugby greats before 1994, Lomu was the first person to put rugby on the global map. Many people in India paid their respects on hearing the news, the Italian football league, Serie A, put out a post on social media expressing their condolences, and there was a comment here on The Roar itself about a Lomu cut-out outside a McDonald’s in Barcelona.

Sometimes sport teaches you lessons about life – just as one person can’t be bigger than the game, and one can’t beat the inevitability of life, that it’s bound to end.

Think back to one of the greatest rugby moments of all time – Joost van der Westhuizen’s tackle on the big man himself in the 1995 World Cup final. Now one of those two stalwarts is gone while the other manfully clings on to life.

It reminds me of a poem (funny how poetry is the first thing that comes to our minds when something poignant happens) I read in school called Death The Leveller, by James Shirley.

Advertisement

It speaks about how no matter the social status or deeds done in life, everyone, every single one of us, will end up in the same state. So we must be humble and grateful for everything we have.

While the poem has an overall morbid tone, it does end on this very apt note:

Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

And it’s true.

Jonah may have left us, but he has left us with innumerable memories and some astonishingly spectacular highlight reels that will continue to enthral for years to come.

While I never got to watch him live, I still consider myself lucky as nearly all his clips are available to experience him in all his majesty, swatting aside defenders like flies, and taking huge, gazelle-like strides on his way to yet another try.

And it’s his legacy – of being a behemoth, whatever you may call him on the pitch, but all the same being a humble, gentle giant off it – that will live on.

In many ways, one never really dies.

Advertisement

It’s a concept that is common to nearly all cultures, and it is true in a sense. All these people that have passed away in recent times – Jonah Lomu, Jerry Collins, Phil Hughes last year, the victims of the numerous terror attacks we saw recently, or perhaps someone close to you who is no more; remember that they have left behind fond memories, and by virtue of these they still live, in our hearts, and in our minds.

I want to quote another poem that I read in school, which I feel is titled quite fittingly in this regard – Because I Could Not Stop For Death by Emily Dickinson.

Really, you’d imagine that Jonah wouldn’t have stopped for death, rather it would have been the other way round.

Rest in peace, big man. The game they play in heaven just got a whole lot harder.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

close