In keeping with our analogy, ships on this as on almost every sea tend to gather into Flotilla and, in turn, into Fleets and indeed, Navies. In human terms, we bond and gather together in marriage and families – nuclea and extended – in communities, in societies and nationalities worldwide. Nevertheless – and returning to our analogy we, in the first instance, do ever remain and retain responsibility for our own vessel. What is more, we can become ever more daily grateful for support and inspiration coming from sources lying way beyond yet readily available to us as our ship’s captain, , e.g. in shipping terms, our knowledge of and ability to interpret incoming signs and signals, such as. the weather; by attenuating and interpreting radio and radar waves impulses and similar aids and inputs ‘from beyond’.
When the ship really comes to grief or, as ultimately will be the case in every instance, to the end of its days, such is the faith of many that its captain/pilot, unfussily moves on to higher service leaving behind little more than the outer ‘shell’ of the vessel. Others still afloat (and here the abrasive conflict of mixed metaphors is unavoidable) tenderly and sympathetically supervise the demise of the craft that they have known and cooperated with, in the form of the funeral service. Truth to tell, I have in days gone by, often stood by an open grave at the moment of burial, or in a crematorium and have been supported and heartened and yes, strengthened in spirit, by the conviction that I and others present are, in reality, simply presiding – hopefully with great dignity and respect and not infrequently with continuing love for its departed captain/pilot – over the end-stage of the now abandoned and ‘lifeless vessel’.
Given the constant need to observe the caution about the application and interpretation of analogies referred to above, this simple descriptive account has been, for me at any rate often, almost daily, supportive of the need for and provision of a sense of purpose, meaning and intrinsic worth. Anyway, I have fulfilled a promise made to many in days gone by, by including it here and I leave it to you to take or leave it as you so wish. Whatever you believe about life and death is for the sanctum of your own inner thoughts. I would only respectfully observe that if you believe in, at any rate some kind of Creative and Sustaining Genius, which somehow ‘sparked off’ the whole order of things, even in just our Universe, then it surely comforts us to believe (if of course we do) that we are in His/Her/It’s ‘hands’ and not the other way round. May I share with you some words which I learned many years ago now and, in truth, have carried through life: –
“Let me no more my comfort draw from my frail hold on Thee;
But the vow seal as now I feel, Thy mighty grasp on me”.
(Adaptation of words written by John Campbell Sharp, 1881.)
One final thought for those who do have – however tenuous or fragile – a belief, faith even, in some form of Divine Providence: I wonder whether you have ever come across lines written by John Oxenham about a patient who was terrified of death. (Very obviously these words bear reference and testify quite specifically to the Christian faith. However, just a small ‘leap’ of imagination can, I am sure, readily transpose them (as well as those immediately above, into the context of your own chosen faith): –
“Shapeless and dim a shadow grim o’er-hung my ways and darkened all my days;
And all who saw it, with bated breath, said ; “It is death!”
And I, in weakness, slipped toward the night,
In sore affright, looked up. And lo! –
No spectre grim, but just a dim sweet face; a sweet, high mother-face; a face like Christ’s own mother’s face; alight with tenderness and grace “Thou art not death” I cried; For life’s supremest fantasy hasad never thus envisaged death to me – “Thou art not death, the End!” In accents winning came the answer: “Friend, There is no death! I am a beginning, not the end’!
FOOTNOTE: This and all other blogs were composed prior to my wife Christine’s diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, from which, so sadly, she died in November 2006. These writings in their entirety remain, out of my deep and continuing sense of loss and gratitude, in their original form; for without Christine they could never have been conceived of, much less written. SB.