I had a terror — since September — I could tell to none — and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground — because I am afraid
~ Emily Dickinson
In the final weeks of his life Bernard, to whom I was married, chose the music for his funeral. He loved music – Mahler, swing jazz, Spanish guitar, Welsh harp – all sorts, really. He died on the last day of August, a shimmering hot summer, and in those days he lay quietly in his room listening for the last time to the exquisite and the haunting, the peaceful and the glorious – the Lark Ascending, the Laudate Dominum from Mozart’s Vespers, and sometimes just the song of the thrush and the blackbird, the robin and the wren, through the cottage window that stood open all that summer.
This was the piece he chose to have played as we bore his coffin into the chapel.
And as we blessed him onto his way into new life, my girls sang this spiritual for him.
This evening I went to the summer concert of Battle Town Band – where my daughter Rosie plays trombone and her partner Jon is the band leader and conductor (here's Jon and some band members on the steps of Battle Abbey). The music was tremendous, as always – such a good sound, such zest and vigour, the rhythms of life.
I arrived at the concert venue with Rosie’s sisters – except Buzzfloyd, who is at home in the evenings doing the Wretched Wretch’s bedtime – and the Badger went to collect my beautiful mama in his car. He dropped her off and went to park, we having been organising drinks and snacks at the table Rosie had reserved for us. Looking up I saw my beautiful mama in the doorway, a little old lady, eyesight dim, in her pretty skirt and flowered blouse. Eighty-five.
It is such a strange thing, to live in the world. To see my beautiful mama, so determined and decisive, such will power and purpose in life, fading like a flower, not so many years left now. To see my daughters – I do not think of them as children, but I do still see the child in each one of them – becoming middle-aged women. To see myself, mind and body, inexplicably and incomprehensibly growing old.
And then, to see the bewildering contrasts and reversals of the world. In America, the vile keystone pipeline, pushing ahead with its fracking destruction, the oil-soaked waterbirds, the ruined countryside, the lands seized despite the protests of farmers who loved the woodlands, the rivers, the places where grass and flowers grew wild. It has been given to Mammon. And Monsanto . . . the suicides of the Indian farmers . . . And the violence in Syria . . . violence in the Middle East . . . violence in Iraq . . . Afghanistan . . . North Korea . . . what humans do to one another, the horrific bloodshed, bodies torn by the endless tide of weapons . . . the hatred of women, raped, burned . . . the selling of children for sex . . . the persecution of Christians by Muslims . . . the abuse of the helpless and frightened by Christians – beating little children till they hear the broken cry they are listening for, hounding homosexual people as ‘abominations’ until they can find no peace and safety in the world and take refuge in death . . .
This, all of it, the cruelty and tragedy, the incomprehensible savagery of humanity, bludgeons my mind numb.
But what finds my heart defenceless, enters my heart like a blade, breaks my heart every time, is the crazy bright hope of human faith and courage, the gaiety and humour, the resilient jaunty spirit of life that will not die, will not give up, will never be quenched. The light that still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never quenched it. Like the small pennant fluttering high on the mast catching the sunlight near the far horizon, voyaging out on its adventure of brave optimism in its impossible little boat:
Methinks I see them yet again
As they leave this land behind
Casting their nets into the sea
The herring shoals to find
Me thinks I see them yet again
They're all on board all right
With their nets rolled up and their decks cleaned off
And the side lights burning bright.
(from William Delph’s song about the Grimsby fishing disaster, Three Score & Ten)
And this evening, listening to the band play 76 Trombones Led The Big Parade, my Rosie on the trombone, all the skill and practise and musicianship, the spirit poured into making what is beautiful and worthwhile, the joy of life and the dauntless rising hope of man, how amidst all the hideous cacophony and septic smearing of war and corruption somehow the cheery irrepressible melody still goes singing along the sunlit ways, it broke my heart again.