About time

One last week, two more in this: the doddering oldies, pushing off. How often they die in the approach to winter. Ich habe genug, as the Bach cantata says: an expression that may be taken wryly. Both my parents left, about this time of year. The youngest of that generation, ahead of mine, are now passing ninety. Few will last another decade. In my childhood veterans of the Great War were common enough; some had yet to retire. Then suddenly there were none; none at all. And so now with the graduates of the Second Great War, with their lovers and companions, gone where?

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.”

Last week it was the turn of my Uncle Joe: among the last of the master carpenters and joiners. A good man, and a happy: blest with kindly wife and children. But also with tragedies, pain, awful loss. Struggling at the last to sort through recollections; confused between the living and the dead. Need I attend the reception in Burlington? Of course I must. For in the moment I learnt of Joe’s passing, I heard my late father’s voice. Saying only: “That was my little brother.”

At the reception, so many cousins growing old like me; and young ones I had never met, children of children, so “Warrenish” in their faces. Jim, Bob, Joe, all gone: the idea that Death is picking through my family. The photos everywhere of lives lived; one in particular of a sprawling family reunion, half a century ago. (That’s me: on the far right.) But now fifty more years will pass; and a hundred, and a thousand. There will be not one fragment of dust to prove that we were ever here. That which was so commonplace, so present, and sometimes so utterly boring, becomes impossibly remote. One reaches through receding place and time. And as one reaches, it pulls farther away.

Soon it will be the turn of my contemporaries. Many even of these old friends are gone. I know, because I attended the funerals, or received the letters, or caught the shocking news by chance. When they die they grow younger in the passages of the mind. Even Rick, Joe’s eldest, killed by a car at the age of twenty-three, trying to save a dog. My precise contemporary, but now I search in my memory for his face and voice, and for a moment find him vividly before me, but reverted to eight or nine. It is as if they perish through birth as well as death, growing ever smaller.

Christ comes into this: that Christ who died, descended into Hell, then rose that Death shall have no dominion. We live, if we live at all, in Him.