I’m sitting on a somewhat rickety bench seat in Fulham cemetery, in central London. It’s about mid-day and it’s August, and its overcast and cloudy. A wee bit humid, too, and it could threaten to rain, but so far it’s dry.
There are parts of this cemetery which are more recently used than others and consist of fairly ‘well-manicured’ lawns. The part of the cemetery where the bench seats are – their are three of them – are in the oldest part of the cemetery, and the least used part now, and there nature is ‘wilder’. I like that area. That’s where I am.
With many tall trees and overgrown shrubs around me, the noise of nearby buses and other traffic is hardly noticeable. It’s like being in another place. Another world. It is, after all, known as ‘God’s acre’.
It feels as though I am alone. And yet…
As I sit here it feels as though things have always been this way. But, each one of us had an arrival date, each one of us navigates our way through a myriad of days, and as the names and dates on the gravestones reveal, there will be a time when we will all ‘move on’.
There is a Presence in this place. I don’t feel alone anymore.
Some might say this Presence are the souls of the departed here, others might say it’s angels or the Source of All. Still others may talk of dryads and elementals. Who knows? Whatever we call that Presence, and I think there’s room to ponder there, we’re acknowledging two things: the Presence connotes life (or should that be Life) and the paradox of this place; and that each one of us can, if we’re not distracted or too busy, be aware of the Presence.
‘To be here is immense’. Rainer Maria Rilke.
Almost in front of me is a large gravestone listing three members of the same family. The husband died in 1903, his wife died in 1908, and oh, that dear woman’s mother died two years after her. These three have gone from our sight, but the Presence is a ‘guarentee’ that life goes on, albeit in another form. Gone, but their memory lives on. It lives on in my mind as I have just read the gravestone. But, there are others alive today that came from their ancestral line, just as these three people came from their parents’ ancestral line.
‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’ Robert Frost
None of us is alone.
We are all part of that which has gone before, and we all contribute to those who are yet to come (or those who are here now and maturing, or contribute in a myriad of ways to others’ lives now, if not genetically). Like runners in a baton race – receiving and giving.
We can metaphorically look back at the ancestors with gratitude, look forward with anticipation and hope, and look around us, today, with wonder and awe…..perhaps at the very fact, that we can actually do that!
‘To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us, and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge…’ John O’Donohue.
As I sit on this wooden bench it’s easy to forget the marvel, the miracle, that is Life. As I gaze around at wild nature, but it’s the same wherever we are – or wherever you are – the fact that we are aware of those who have gone before us, those we know now, and can envisage those who might yet come, that we can look around us and be aware ‘is immense’.
And yet, ‘amnesia’ sets in, and we can so easily forget our part in that long ancestral line or the calling of the Presence to ‘be’, and to ‘do’. Then, the visible seems to overpower the invisible, our hurried present seems to ‘crowd out’ the Presence…except in those still moments of solitude when the Presence, or angels, or dryads or elemental or the ancestors, or whatever our theology ‘permits’, still cry out to us. I have a hunch that the Originator of this ongoing message is more concerned about us hearing the message than debating who is, or what is, or what the Originator looks like.
‘We are a continuum. Just as we reach back to our ancestors for our fundamental values, so we, as guardians of that legacy, must reach ahead… And we do so with a sense of sacredness in that reaching.’ Paul Tsongas
The wind is picking up, and it’s time for me to leave. I stand up slowly, momentarily aching somewhat from sitting in a less-than-anthropometically designed, old bench seat, but it was wonder…and, I cannot leave without pausing for a moment and giving a nod of my head. To do less seems disrespectful to the Presence, and to others, such as the ancestors. Life is sacred. Life goes on. There will never be a time when you won’t be!
‘You are the fairy-tale told by your ancestors’. Toba Beta