A pair of Peregrines noisily mobbed a Buzzard as it climbed higher and higher in wide spiralling flight, apparently unconcerned by all the fuss.
A Swallow rested on the telephone wire, stretching and scratching itself as others swooped busily to and fro gathering insects for their young.
I looked out past the green border of the garden, coloured with pink and red roses to a serene Start bay.
The sea was flat calm with those narrow snail-trails that tell of the currents underneath, cutting across several shades of blue as they snaked around the lighthouse at Start Point.
It was warm and sunny with just the right amount of cloud and the faintest sea breeze. A perfect summer’s day.
“Could heaven itself be any better?” my mother had asked, as I showed her some photographs from a recent walk.
It is only a moment in time I know. It will pass. I suppose that’s part of the difference.
And as we all know from bitter earthly experience; ‘summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’
I was taking a break in the garden of the old house, between visits to my mother, now ensconced in the residential home up the road.
Only that morning, I had let her speak to her brother on the phone:
“I’m still here Den!” she announced in a strong, clear voice. And demonstrating her humour was still intact added,
“I’ve been resurrected!”
She apologised for not going quietly in the night at the weekend, especially after they’d all sent cards and said their last goodbyes.
I tried to reassure her that apologies were not necessary.
Dying, as with any other natural process, can be difficult and the family relationships surrounding it can be sorely tested: Masks slip, resentments resurface and wounds reopen. Head and heart thrust and parry within.
As with all natural biological patterns, they follow fundamentally simple laws but it is their relationships to one another that become incredibly complex.
My own family’s eco-system has proved no exception to this rule and I found myself examining my own motives and understanding of the circumstances.
That’s one of the benefits, or should I say responsibilities of being human: Not only are we the only living creatures who can comprehend our own mortality, we can occasionally step back from our natural inclinations and look in from the outside and make a moral judgement.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that the human intellect is incurably abstract, yet the only realities we experience are concrete: ‘This pain, this pleasure, this dog, this man.’ But ‘while we are loving the man, feeling the pain, feeling the pleasure, we are not apprehending pleasure, pain or personality.’
‘As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about,’ and ‘the more deeply we enter into reality the less we can think.’
This was going to take some untangling.
‘Myth,’ he suggests, ‘is the partial solution to this problem. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing the concrete.’
I decided to take his advice and dived into the pages of a book I’d brought with me on Norse mythology, occasionally glancing up to check the sea state.
I was whisked into the story of Odin the Alfather and god of wisdom, poetry, death, divination and magic: Quite a CV!
In this story Odin wanted greater wisdom and was not satisfied by his previous efforts to gain it from the Well of Wisdom. I think it was power he really wanted but I suppose knowledge is power, even if we currently seem to be wielding it in the form of competing forms of victimhood or shouting “Nazi!” at Brexiteers or something.
Intriguingly Odin wanted to be able to read the ancient runes but to do so required a sort of ‘dying resurrection’ and the practice of Shamanism which his own laws specifically forbade.
In a nutshell, he ignored statute, pierced himself with a spear and hung himself on a branch by tying his own wrists, presumably in that order. The spear was not too deep to kill him but deep enough as to require the help of a healer. The snag was that he couldn’t ask anyone for help though much help was offered.
At the point of death the runes were revealed to him and he absorbed their great wisdom. He rescued himself, went back to Asgard where he was nursed back to health before being banished for nine years by the other gods for foul play. He eventually returned to rule over all.
I glanced up again and watched a bee visiting the shrubbery and began to ponder what concrete real-world wisdom this story might hold.
If you want something done properly do it yourself? No, that wasn’t it.
Look after number one? Nope.
Perhaps, don’t mess around with sharp sticks? I don’t think it was that either, sound advice though it is.
It was certainly an odd story.
I suppose it reveals a deeper truth: That we must sacrifice something of ourselves to receive that which is truly of value, notwithstanding the dodgy eschatology and the hypocrisy of breaking ones own rules for self-gain.
And maybe that wisdom – the prudent application of knowledge – is something worth the sacrifice.
One thing I do know for sure is that we are too foolish by far to be our own god. Lewis knew this too: ‘Unless we tidy up within we are only deceiving ourselves. What’s the good in drawing up on paper rules for social behaviour if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill-temper and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them.’
That’s why I can never concede to the humanist worldview; It’s too unrealistic by far.
I walked back up the road to see how Mum was. Her condition seems to turn quicker than the tide.
“Hello ladies,” she said, addressing the furniture on the other side of the room.
I told her there were no ladies and it was probably the morphine.
“The snorkelling?” she replied, astonished.
I noticed her hearing aid on the bedside table and fitted it to her ear so we could both enjoy the joke. She threw her head back in laughter and her eyes sparkled once more.
The realities of life never seem so bad when, like mum, you’re aiming for eternity.
‘Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.’
The quotes are from:
CS Lewis essay: A dogma and the universe
William Shakespeare’s, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day- Sonnet 18