‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known’.
Paul of Tarsus
Today has been given the name of a friend who died this time last year. My diary has other such name-days now. They are growing in number. It is just a time of life I’m passing through I suppose. Today as we walked the two of us, dog and friend, we remembered him. He liked dogs and talked to his dog too.
But what am I doing? What does this remembering add up to? It gives me some sort of comfort. But it’s troubling too. It can feel a bit wallowing. Immersion in sentiment someone told me. All you’re doing is immersing yourself in sentiment. Was she being cruel or realistic?
I was troubled last night when the BBC reporter ended his piece about Stephen Sutton’s funeral with the standard words of comfort to the effect that ‘he will live on in the memories of his friends and family’. And yes, he will. Stephen was an extraordinary young man. He was ready to accept that life is not just the number of years we may have. It was more than the money raised. It was his courage and his articulate defiance that we admired and remember. I hope I will have some of that when I need it. The people closest to him will remember him. He will never leave their life. Just like my friend has not left mine.
But is that it?
Both of them will live on in the memories of those who remember they say; but is that it? Is that all the comfort we can give each other?
Oh I know it’s powerful. Some people receive great strength and the power to carry on through the remembering. There is a remembering that goes on in public and there is another remembering that goes on behind closed doors; where there is no need for a brave face and or finding comfort in keeping up appearances. Away from the public gaze there is the raw remembering of those who feel left behind. But what happens when there is no one left to remember? Is that when we truly die? These questions they trouble me; on this name day for a friend who died last year.
Some will say that he is looking down on me. I hope not. What sort of hell is that?
I know it’s a common comfort. Think what this really means; we are casting them into an eternity of helpless observation. Believe me I know the comfort in the feeling that the departed are nearby; just next door; staying on for a while until we adjust to their absence; up there as a star; arriving unbidden in the song of a robin.
But is that it?
And am I alone in becoming just a little troubled by what is being done in the memory of those who had their lives taken from them in the First World War? Books, films, websites, visits to the graves, school projects, yet more clergy-blessed memorials. What is going on? Are we trying to give them some sort of immortality? But who are we to do that?
We are told that the stories can tell us where we’ve come from. They give us a sense of history and our place in history.
I fear there is a manipulation going on. For just as the first victim of war is the truth so the truth can continue to be the victim when the war is over – to the victor the spoils and to the survivor the interpretation of events.
I too have someone to remember from that time. But in what sense does he live on because I can tell his story? Who’s to say that what I remember is the truth about him? I might have given immortality to a falsehood.
So I want to assert the independence of my friend to be who he was, though no longer with me. I may remember him but I will not be telling all the truth about him when I do. It went with him to his grave. I can only stand there and give my opinion. It will say more about what he meant to me than what I, his town, his family, his church meant to him. I need to release him from the bonds that my affection cast around him. It is my need for comfort that needs him to live on in my memories.
We only have snapshots, brief encounters, changing memories of each other to go on – there is none who knows the complete truth about us in our lifetime or after it.
Or is there?