PC 22 Life is uncertain, huh!

The English countryside is often defined by small villages and their Norman church, dating from the eleven or twelfth century. This particular Norman church is rather hidden behind thatched cottages in the tiny Hampshire village. Ancient carvings feature in the stonework of the arched doorway; ghosts of old paintings and fragments of the Ten Commandments are visible on the flaking plastered walls. The stone steps of the doorway have been worn away by the footfall of the faithful and they’re delightfully uneven; a beautiful alabaster monument to a long forgotten Tudor knight and his wife lies to the right of the altar. This church stands witness to both joy and sadness, to both hope and fear, to both faith and dedication, through its congregations over the centuries and, if you sit in a pew…… and pause ….. and imagine, you can hear some snippets of conversations, of sermons, of music from the little organ, of laughter and of silence. Some of those who have worshiped here lie at peace in amongst the rough grass around the solid building.

I sit on a hard wooden pew, close to where I had witnessed the marriage of her sister back in 1971. That was a joyous uplifting occasion, full of hope and happiness and the future. This is an extremely sad occasion, full of disbelief and finality; the falling rain and cold add their influence. Family and friends have come together in common grief, to acknowledge a life well lived but too short; no future. We’ve got rather used to an ever increasing life span in the Western developed world, so it’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the C20th life expectancy in the USA was a mere 49 ……  and in some parts of the world it probably still is! So now we expect to not only live longer but also live with better health. All the more shocking when someone close dies too soon; she was 60. Don’t be macho; listen to your body!

Working in a GPs’ practice must have given her huge understanding of the symptoms of heart disease; so she obviously didn’t have sense she had any, or maybe she just didn’t recognise them, didn’t think “It will happen to me.” The news reminded me of my own saga from last year! What if I hadn’t listened to my body and gone to the doctor to have the tightness in my chest checked out? I might not have had the Angiogram that found the blockage and might not have had the bypass. I might have joined the 60,000 people in the UK who have a heart attack every year, away from hospital – of whom 5% survive!! I could have been one of those 57,000 – I could have died, like my dear friend! Lucky, huh! (And do you remember, I had had a ‘Well Man Check Up’ a few weeks before and been told I had an 83% chance of not having a heart attack!)

But of course there are no guarantees in life! Educated, you keep fit, eat sensibly, drink in moderation, try to keep the weight off ……. and suddenly death comes and kicks you up the bum. A business chum, fit and healthy, died running the Humber Bridge half marathon four years ago, aged, er, 34! There are of course only two certainties in life – the event that starts it and the one that ends it. All the stuff in the middle depends on a multitude of circumstances.  One isn’t really aware of the beginning and maybe one won’t be aware of the end – so it’s all to play for in the middle!

With the certainty of life and death one can of course take a somewhat lighthearted view of this human experience.

“I think that the life cycle is all backwards.

You should die first, get it out of the way,

then you live 20 years in an old age home.

You get kicked out when you are too young,

you get a gold watch, you go to work.

You work 40 years until you are young enough

to enjoy your retirement.

You go to college, you do drugs, you do alcohol,

you party until you are ready for Public School.

You go to Public School, you go to Prep School,

you become a little kid, you play,

you have no responsibilities,

you become a little baby,

you go back into the womb,

you spend the last nine months floating,

and you finish off as a gleam in somebody’s eye.”

And then these words of Canon Henry Scott Holland rang out across the church, read by a nephew and my Godson:  “ ….. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am still what I am and you are still what you are. Whatever we were to each other that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name.  ….  All is well.”

The rain fell outside as the coffin was lowered, out of sight, into the cold ground. But our memories of her will remain, ‘gleaming in our eyes’, for many many years to come. Dwelling on the good and the happy, not the poor and sad.

Just some thoughts on this life of ours.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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