One of my lasting memories is of an interview Melvyn Bragg conducted with Denis Potter in his last days. His talk was of his impending death but also of how he was seeing life through new eyes and appreciating so much. He talked of the blossom on the tree outside his window as he strove to complete his final play. This wordsmith couldn't find the words to describe its beauty. I remember him saying, while rubbing his fingers, it was the blossomiest, blossomiest blossom and though this might seem nonsense it certainly conveys the beauty of the tree and the magnificence of its blossom as well as an appreciation of its grandeur. Facing death, Dennis Potter really appreciated life and its giftedness. In some way we are all facing death. It can come like a thief in the night and be taken from us at any moment. For some people this is a scary thought and they would do anything to distract themselves from it. The Japanese say that we are only able to live when we have faced death. I presume this is because facing death takes away our fear of it, stops us being self-defensive and enables us to live and enjoy life as fully as we can. It helps us realise the giftedness and sacredness of life and the world in which we live - hopefully helping us treat it with reverence and respect. Seize the day, as the saying goes, because it will never come again. We only have the present. Today's fashion in mindfulness teaches the same thing.
Death also brings us face to face with the sacredness and mystery of human beings. As the word of the death of our two sisters spread across the community we shared memories and reminiscences of their lives, we reflected on who they were and what they meant to us. But it also made me realise that there was much we didn't know about them. So much of our knowledge of one another is surface knowledge. Thomas Merton has said:
‘A person is a person in so far as each has a secret
and is a solitude of their own
that cannot be communicated to anyone else’.
Each of these two sisters had their own inner struggles and challenges, joys and sorrows known only to themselves and to God. But their story was and is part of a story much greater than their individual lives, greater than their work or achievements. Their life story includes the effect and influence they had on each of us and the many people who came into contact with them. It includes the good that still lives on in the world because of their presence in it. And in this sense they continue to live on in us and those they influenced and where they are we are too for the unity we share surely cannot end with death. It 's too great a reality for that.