This week I am diminished, made smaller, because last Friday I helped to bury my friend.
This is a blog about travelling, and what are our lives if not the journeys we make from birth to death, passing through this world? What are our travellers’ tales if not accounts of memories of what we have encountered along our way through life?
Adrian was my oldest friend. I met him when I was about 10½ and he was just 11, and though we did not walk much together through the world, still we saw one another from time to time and compared notes. We’d had more contact lately, what with the Internet and Facebook, but even before – for thirty years, more – there were letters and the occasional phone call and a meeting now and again.
And now no more.
I met up with him most recently about two weeks before he died. He was in good health. OK, he was fatter around the middle and balder on top. The tall, slim, fair-haired boy from 1969 was gone, but which of us have not changed dramatically from our pre-pubertal selves? (I speak with the weight of many added kilos and, to be sure, a great deal more facial hair.) But he looked in good enough health.
True, he had a story to tell of great sadness in his recent life, of separation and divorce. But he was joyful too, talking about his daughter’s achievements and his own rediscovery of Buddhism after all these years.
We parted that mild, damp October evening promising to stay in touch and, on my part, with a plan forming for another visit to Brighton and another meeting in the not too distant future. Perhaps in the New Year.
I was in Florence when the news reached me that Adrian was dead. There was, it seems, no warning. On Sunday 1st November he’d visited a friend in Shoreham, and then gone for one of his long walks across the Downs, the rolling chalk hills that embrace Brighton and Hove. He’d come home to his room at the Brighton Buddhist Centre and there he’d suffered a heart attack caused by a blood clot, and died.
No one is an island, complete and self-sufficient. Everyone is a piece of a continent, a part of the whole. If a piece of earth is washed away by the sea, the whole of dry land becomes smaller in just the same way as it becomes smaller if a headland were lost, or a peninsula, or the garden of one of your friends, or your own. In the same way, the death of someone close, of a friend or a family member, may be felt more keenly, but truly anyone’s death diminishes me, because I am a part of the continent of mankind.
And Adrian has gone, and I am diminished.
Yes, you’re right, I have borrowed from John Donne – the Meditation XVII.
Now this bell tolling softly for another,
says to me, Thou must die.
Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that…
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all…
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…
The photo of Adrian at the head of this is a selfie taken from his Facebook Page, behind is a school photo from 1971. The boy in focus, that’s Adrian.
In the sound recording the Buddhist prayer bell comes from a recording on Freesound.org by user Itsallhappening, for which many thanks. The sound of the sea is an ambient recording I made myself in Brighton.
This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.