28 Dec A matter of life and death
I was at the local crematorium earlier this month. It’s been a season of deaths and, thus, funerals. I didn’t know the man well; Jim knew him better but ‘knew/ know’ are not accurate words. For, as we listened to the several long and often emotional eulogies, we realised that we knew this man very little. We knew only a part, and we knew that part very dimly, briefly and carelessly, or at least with insufficient thought, at the end of his 86-year span of life.
Listening to the stories of the man from those who knew him longer and better than us, from those who cherished their friendship with him in a way we had not, we understood how often we know very little of the people about whom we readily form opinions. We slot this or that character into this or that box: diffident, opinionated, intelligent, self-absorbed. Then you discover they had qualities you hadn’t seen.
Coincidentally, fortuitously perhaps, I was invited to a small exhibition at one of the galleries in Kew Gardens called Life in Death. The title made me anxious. But that was unnecessary. One large, square room was filled with dried flowers, leaves and grasses threaded on fine copper wire and hung from the ceiling to create a hanging garden of dead, dried beauty, alive with gentle hues and muted colour. 375,000 individual specimens collected over many years and thoughtfully combined on shafts of thin wire to create a magical walkway. A reverential rendering of life in death and the work of someone who, unlike me, knew the subject well.