Consider the Lilies.....
I was in Hastings, and I witnessed a strange thing. I was walking along the front, near the fishermen’s shacks and the miniature railway when a juvenile Herring Gull smashed into the top of a metal flag pole. The bird plummeted awkwardly to the ground, stunned - at least. And then, within seconds, the air was filled with the sound of concerned adults – gulls which either knew the youth or recognised it as one of them – and they were clearly concerned. Their cries were a mixture of, Get up, little one, get up, and What happened here? Is he/she all right? Fifty or more gulls all wheeling in the air crying, watching, disturbed, concerned.
Very slowly, and dazedly the little one raised its head, looking uncomfortable as it regained consciousness - but it was alive. The crowd dispersed, leaving only a few (close relatives, perhaps?) to watch how the story would end.
Later that day, I was in Winchelsea, where my uncle Peter (one of my godfathers) and my aunt used to live. My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, died in 2014, and is buried in the graveyard of the church of St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea, just yards from their former home. Peter and his wife, Theresa, had five children, and we were all gathering to celebrate the life of my aunt, who died in November 2022. A service in the church was to be followed by the interment of her ashes in her husband’s grave.
And so they came. From Australia, from Spain, from France, London and the Midlands, etc. melding as a family to remember their lives together and to celebrate their parents.
Not exactly like Herring Gulls, but I couldn’t help but feel the uniting power of family as we gathered..... It is surely a common feature of life that caring is important, and that the closer you may be related the more you care. This may not be universal, and there will be exceptions. But family is so important.
|The family, August 2013|
I have sixteen first cousins (though sadly they haven’t all survived) and these relationships have been a sustaining element of my life. Of course, we do not/cannot meet that often, but one of the distinct features of family is that even after years of separation you can pick up on the threads of past encounters. We have known each other all our lives, give or take, and our parents were the natural coefficient that brought us together.
|Theresa, Anna and Peter, Winchelsea, April 2012|
My mother, Anna, had two brothers and one sister. Her younger brother, Peter, met and married Theresa in a flurry of love in 1963. I remember well their first visit to our family home. Theresa was light and frothy, a Saumur amongst red wines, and her tinkling, descending-scale laughter was etched on my mind from the very start.
|Peter and Theresa's Golden Wedding, August 2013|
I will confess that I never knew her as well as I felt I knew my uncle, but throughout the years, visiting her and the family in places from Weybridge to Tarvin to holidays in Lowland Scotland to retirement in Winchelsea, she always made us welcome, however inconvenient we may have been.
|Anna, Peter, Theresa, Eve, August 2013|
When Peter was in hospital toward the end of his life, I met with Theresa and we shared something of the unhappiness of things unravelling. And then, when Peter was no longer there, I visited her in their home in Winchelsea with Amanda, who was already suffering from her particular dementia. We took tea and she smiled sweetly. I have no hesitation in saying that, with the possible exception of my wife, Amanda, Theresa was the gentlest, sweetest person I ever knew. If only more had her qualities....
Then the end game. And the end. We don’t need to rehearse details. The ending is not what we want to remember. We must hold the positives. The good times. The shared meals, the walks, the sunshine in the garden, the flowers, the strutting cats, the freshly laundered bed linen that says, You are welcome, and the tea, by the fire.....
|Yew Tree Platt, Winchelsea|
It isn’t the same for Herring Gulls. Wild life is wild, and, beautiful, and we have come away from that. We care for each other, but, generally, not by flying round in circles, squealing. We take our place in church pews and shed sad salty tears and then turn to each other and smile, in remembrance.
But, in fine, it remains the same. We are, essentially, close to our friends and family, and we feel love for our kind. I love my family, and every loss, every memory, matters.
Thank you, Theresa, for being a part of our lives.
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Luke 12:27 KJV
After the memorial. After the reception. When the family had departed. I went back up to the church, and stood under scudding clouds, in brisk air, to view the grave where now aunt and uncle were together again,
to stand outside the house where we had all stayed at times, to wander back down across the fields where once we had walked and talked.
The sun was slipping away, deepening the colour in the sky, but every darkening is a lightening somewhere else. The dying day is also the beginning of a new one.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
As that extraordinary Zen master, William Shakespeare, put it:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Act V scene 5
Consider the lilies.....
February 1st 1938 - November 21st 2022