Wednesday, 31 August 2016
A final home?
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."
So, pretty mixed, then - like my school-days, at a boarding school that no longer exists. My brother went there too. (There is a mindfulness/Buddhist point to all this, it won't be just reminiscences!)
We were down there recently to scatter his ashes, as people say. Not a very accurate phrase, but more of that anon, if you really want it! We stood atop of this noble pile of chalk:
Much has changed since the more-than-half-a-century since I was at school. The top of the Down was quite an important military site during WW2, and had several pill-boxes and large gun emplacements (no guns.) It was all fenced off "WD" (MoD) property, so of course we felt obliged to break in and make dens up there, before getting chased off by the shepherd/caretaker and his dog.
The site is now open, they've built a pub up there, and there are people wandering about at will - it's all National Trust. And there are no sheep. The flora is beautifully varied, the grass is long, it bends and sighs in the breeze, and I nearly trod on a bloody great adder, a thing of great if slightly chilling beauty.
So it's not as exciting or adventurous for me as it was 57 years ago, but it's a much pleasanter, more beautiful place. The view of the school site from the top of the Down and on across the Solent to where my brother was stationed for some his time during his National Service and, much later in life, where he came to live:
Something about a life coming full circle - which might feel like a cliché stated baldly like that, but it certainly didn't at the time. Something about home, about significant places. He had been very much at home in this part of Britain.
It was the right place for us to do this, no question about that. There was no "he" to know this of course, though he had chosen the spot himself, and in any case, symbolic action is of itself powerful for those taking part.
In one sense the dead have neither opinions nor rights, so that if we felt he had chosen something destructive, dangerous or unpleasant to be done with his ashes, we would probably have not followed his wishes. Yet the impulse to carry out someone's wishes after they have died is strong in most of us; that is surely because it "feels right" to us who still live; the symbolic action worked for us.
And I think that was because there was a sense of rightness about it, for him, and from what we all knew of his life. It was, to be blunt, the right place, a transitory home, for what was left of him; it is now a location for our thoughts and memories and feelings about him.
"Home" is a huge concept. Many people in the world have been driven from their homes by violence or poverty, so I feel pretty lucky to have the home I live in, a place that helps me live with and bear the sort of sadness and loss this day on the Down might represent.
But I want to get a bit further in to the idea of home, than merely home as where one lives, however good or bad that may be.