“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
You know, it’s more than that. Let me tell you this, it has more to do with everything I can see when I close my eyes than it has to do with images we share of a man whom we all loved so dearly. We all know how he looked, what he wore, what he drove, how shiny and fit he was! Everyone who knew this man loved and respected him. Distinctive in both appearance and by nature, this particular man was noticed, admired and loved by all who knew him. We all have photographs and we all know just exactly who I think of when I mention his name.
It isn’t merely about that. It is about what I see when I close my eyes. It is about what speaks to me through his eyes when he looks at me, as I can see him looking at me now. Something else, it’s quite simply something beyond the physical beauty of those unusually beautiful eyes. His voice, both through the spoken word and through his expression, speaks to me. I believe he will be speaking to any of us who pause to really listen for as long as we are alive. A lasting memory alive in us all. This is one way in which he lives on. Perhaps, perhaps there is more to it than this.
But this is a question of Faith, Belief, Hope and/or merely Longing. I don’t wish to blog on such things at this time, other than to acknowledge them all as having an essential part to play in our lives. I shall leave the poetry such thoughts inspire to William Wordsworth who commences his Intimations of Immortality with these words:
“There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream,
It is not now as it hath been of yore;-
Turn whereso’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”
Two weeks ago, clambering over the rocks that line a wonderful stretch of beach we had found along the magnificent coastline of Northern Portugal, I made my way steadily towards a rock pool I had seen glistening in the distance. Jumping off the rocks onto soft, water laden sand I was delighted to encounter a large, bright, shiny golden starfish resting happily in the sunshine just under the surface of a small pool of water. I say delighted and I mean it. Delight was experienced just as I had ever experienced delight as a small child happening upon treasures and wonders that lurked and nestled in rock pools along another coastline thousands of mile away from where I was on this day.
“And see the children sport upon the shore..”
I have been one of those children sporting on the shore. For me, the magic of the moon and “waters on a starry night” were indeed “beautiful and fair.”
Here I was, now in my fifties, back on the rocks climbing and exploring all that had been pushed up to us from beneath the waves, all that comes to us from the very heart of earth offering to us pools of sparkling water so full of secret treasures and delights!
Yes, but. It wasn’t as easy as I remembered it: clambering over rocks. Looking ahead at the waves crashing against the rocks before me, I aimed toward a stretch of sand from which I could see there was a smooth and easy walk into the Atlantic Ocean for a swim. I found my feet unsteady, and felt myself slip and slide on more than one occasion. What’s wrong with me, I wondered. Laughing at myself, I continued on my journey across my black and glistening terrain, aware that I might indeed need to take it slower. I might have to face the fact that I am not quite as agile as I remembered myself to be. Time, it seems, has taken it’s toll.
“Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke.”
Oh, but on and on I go! I shall reach that beach over there, and I shall play in those waves yet! A further slip landed me somewhat caught amongst the tiniest little nest of rock pools from which I emerged wondering how bad in fact things had got! Goodness! Perhaps I can’t make it to that beach after all, I pondered.
Until. Until I remembered that all I had to do, in fact, was REMEMBER. Come on girl, you know, you know better than most people not to step onto a shiny black rock surface with wet feet! You know far better than most people not to rest your unsteady feet on any wet, green surfaces that adorn such rocks. Not to reach undiscerningly at pointy bits of rock with tentatively grasping toes! Above all else, you know better than most people not to rush on these rocks. To treat them with respect, to observe where you step, and to place your feet slowly and carefully just exactly and precisely where you need to place them!
Now isn’t that just a voice from the Universe if ever there was one. Remember what you know. Observe. Discern. Tread carefully and deliberately and place yourself just exactly and precisely where you need to be.
In this spirit, uplifted, aware and with regained assurance, I moved confidently across my rocky pastures, leaping joyously onto the soft sand below, wherein lay the glistening pool that housed one of the most beautiful starfish I have ever seen. Message received, understood and rewarded!
As the years have rolled on by complete with all the joys, sadness, expectations, dissapointments, hopes and heartaches involved in all our lives, the “radiance which was once so bright” has very clearly not been “for ever taken from my sight.”
I think it only fair to tell you here that when I shouted ” STARFISH!” to the sky, a small person armed with a very small net came bounding over the rocks after me to brutally extract my starfish from the sand and leap off with it back to her mother, waving her trophy and I don’t know…perhaps even killing it. Starfish don’t like to be on dry land.
Yet even this did not erode my joy. Wriggling my toes beneath the sand I gazed around me at the rocks, the sea ahead of me and up to the bright blue sky. There is no doubt the sun warmed me right through to my heart, and deeper. For this I am profoundly grateful. I think it is a gift. I have known people to walk under rainbows and through moonbeams, oblivious of the wonder of all that shone down on them. People, perhaps –
“to whom the grave
Is but a lonely bed without sense or sight.”
It is my belief that through being able to observe the wonders of all that surrounds us in this magnificent world, we can reconnect with whatever it is I saw in my cousine’s eyes, whatever it is that I can still hear when I close my eyes and listen for his voice today, and whatever it was that has left his body and travelled to wherever it is now.
“Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.”
Intimations of Immortality. William Wordsworth.