This is our truth, tell us yours
In this bleak midwinter I’ve said two farewells this week; one expected, to someone who’d passed his three score years and ten, and one utterly unexpected.
It made me think how I would say farewell, what message I might leave with my will, and the note about no flowers or hymns. Please note; this is not an intimation that I might die, or a hint of a wish to die. Just as I wrote a letter to my ten year old self, so I can write the letter I would leave behind in case it’s time to depart.
It might read something like this.
‘I’m gone now. Not ended, or transformed, just gone. Each journey is made up of millions of steps, and my last step has led you here.
We don’t know how we go; we have not that degree of control. I write this in the full flush of health, not knowing if I simply paused midstep, or sat down by the road, wrapped in my cloak, and waited for the darkness. I have seen my friends and those I love leave both ways, and cannot know if there is any benefit in either.
I hope you forgive me if you feel I have gone too soon. Some things are not of our choosing.
If I have done anything of value, you may feel as if I have left a hole in your life. If I have angered you or disappointed you, you may feel the same. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so those holes will shrink and disappear, not with mathematical precision, but they will. If I was the target of your anger, beware. Anger does not leave when its object does. I may have deserved your ire; forgive me, but take care, please, that the anger I deserved does not find new and undeserved targets. If I basked in your love, please, remember, you made it possible to be me; any good there was in me is your achievement, not mine.
The road is an awkward metaphor but I used it earlier. We travel, not like commuters knowing both origin and destination, but like Victorian adventurers, consulting Bradshaw’s guide while on the train, trying to work out their next connection. Like a hiking holiday with no set itinerary; how striking that metaphor was when I read C S Lewis’s ‘Out of The Silent Planet’.
The point is not the unknown destination, but how we travel.Do we go with love, and care, and sufficient silence to hear the birds sing? Or do we oppress our surroundings with our noise and clamour? What matters is not the signposts but the sights and sounds, the silence undisturbed and the conversations heard, because we listened, and left space for others.
My life has been filled with love,by others who loved me, and by those who simply approached the world with love. I tried to be the same; if I failed, I hope it was not for want of trying.
If my failings oppressed you, I am sorry. If my love touched you, thank you for noticing, for listening and hearing it.
Great men dream of leaving behind their monuments; their tablets of stone engraved with every victory, every achievement, biography expressed in dates and details. As a child I would read them, carved in stone, set into the wall of the ladychapel their children bequeathed to the church; I could only wonder if love could be captured by the mason’s hand. Like posthumous medals, plaques and gravestones are for the living, not the dead.We’re gone, remember?
I don’t believe love can be chiselled into a memorial. It does not grow if you water it with tears. Love, the love you gave me, the love I tried to express, is a way of being, not a list of moments. It is about who I am, or was, not how you feel now I am gone. The love I tried to practice will only persist if you want to practice it too, to live a life that is not about the destinations reached or the mountains climbed, but about the companionship you offered along the road.
It’s your job now to go together, as companions, and leave my remains behind. Travel joyously, my friends.’