We gather here today
Each one of bringing our own rich, personal histories
Our memories, our moments of greatest joy and deepest sorrow
Our loves, losses, our light and our dark
The weight and beauty of our collective past.
All of our experiences, all of our decisions, have brought us here to this point.
May this flame mark the meeting of many paths
In this present moment, together.
Reading: Extract from Seneca’s Shortness of Life.
No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.
Reading: Extract from ‘Sketch of the Past’ by Virginia Woolf
In certain favourable moods, memories -- what one has forgotten -- come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible -- I often wonder -- that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?
And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? I see it -- the past -- as an avenue lying behind; a long ribbon of scenes, emotions. There at the end of the avenue still, are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound, I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen in to the past. I shall turn up August 1890.
I feel that strong emotion must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start.
Talk by New Unity member Marcus Duran
Let me begin this message by sharing some words with you by poet Ryan Webb:' Exhume the memories of your past lives, Consume their essence for your nourishment. Their knowledge, another state of mind, Shall be reincarnated through you.'
About a week before my mother passed away to terminal cancer last autumn she brought out a large translucent storage box. Within it were thick layers of aged scribbled notes, photocopies, drawings, photographs, diary entries, letters, press cuttings etc. At first glance the contents of this box looked so very forgotten; easily overlooked and throw-away. My mother’s ambition on that sunny day at the hospice had been for it all to gradually make its way to the recycling bin. At the time she seemed more than happy for me to go through it with her. I also had sympathy with her strategy. Having lost so much of her capacity in the preceding weeks, these final tasks would grant her some way to contribute productively to a future she was leaving behind.
However that day’s ambition never fully materialised. The planned purge never came about and the contents of this old storage box remained alone and once again, left to one side. Sadly - in the following 48 hours - my mother lost consciousness and a few days later, in the early hours of the 19th of October 2017, she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
Her death marked the single most complex moment of change in my life. I suppose like any person who loses someone - a parent, in particular - it shifts our fundamental sense of orientation in the world. My orientation has been heavily dented by this experience of loss. Since last October I would say I have felt disorientation more than pain and disorientation has been more numbing than painful.
My mother was there before Meaning came to me as a child. Now it seems that there is a meaningless void left in the space she once occupied in the material world. In coming to terms with all of these new experiences and feelings I want to say that the one idea that underpins my enquiry today is the search to understand - or at least better inhabit - the grief I know that I am experiencing, yet can’t quite name.
But for the time being, let me bring our thoughts back to that large forgotten storage box - the one I mentioned to you before - the one my mother wanted me to scrap the contents of last October.
I recently started the complex task of mining through the fragments of personal memorabilia contained in this box. They draw on the majority of her life - almost every aspect. Things I never knew or guessed I knew. It is a rich embroidery of insights, thoughts & after-thoughts shaped in her own words and acknowledgments. Imagery in all forms too; domestic, public and personal. Many photographs which I had never cast my eyes on before and which will now become unique epilogues to our canon of family albums.
As I digged even deeper I began to understand that I was bearing witness to the lives and memories of other relationships, all enmeshed into these traces of this past - her past. My own bond with her is also encompassed here and it was speaking loudly to me, although at some points it felt like it was coming through in a different language or from a parallel universe.
So, it is at this point were I want to share with you how the idea of reconciliation is beginning to play an important part in my search for the more transformative qualities of grief. My original thoughts for preparing this message pivoted on the idea of ‘reconciling with one’s past’ - I wanted to better understand the meaning of this and apply it to my own context. However, let me share a definition of reconciliation I found while further preparing this message - one that felt more aligned with my current state of mind: Reconciliation - the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.
I yearn for her past to be compatible with my present. An extreme version of this logic would be that I still want her to be here with me - to be in the present, almost as if nothing had ever changed, that she had never died. Since she passed away a schism has emerged between the past and present tense - the flow between both world views has been dislocated. My mother: my main rear window to the past, providing a key line of vision into my background, my origins, my story. In so many ways her memory keeps providing something unique with this link to the past, a big part of which defines who I am.
But my mother is so much more than a mere artefact of memory. Allow me to make a more compassionate interpretation of this definition of reconciliation: I want to fully embrace her past - to not fear or avoid it in anyway - and bring it firmly into my experiences of the Now. I want her past to help define my compatibility with Now. The impact that the contents of this old storage box have had on me is that it has forced me draw supplementary conclusions to who my mother actually was, without her actually being present to pass thoughts, comment or judgment on my analysis.
I am having to find a new language to make sense of who she is now and in the future by embracing the contents of the past. My intuition says that somewhere in this new language exists the vocabulary of grief. In 'A Grief Observed', CS Lewis wrote the following: “Grief is a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” For me these are the very early stages of a new journey, all winding into totally unfamiliar and unravelling landscapes.
But as I begin to travel there I find I am not alone. I have the love of an amazing wife, a courageous brother and family. Friends - and this community in particular - are also joining me at different stages to listen to my stories and support me along the way to an unknown destination, somewhere in the not too distant future. But my most vital companion, sat right at the front with me now as I make my way through this long and winding valley will always be my mother, Susan Duran. May it be so.
As we leave today, on our individual paths
Let us embrace and understand our past in a way that helps us to truly live now.
May we recognise all that we know and cannot know of those around us,
And of our own, complex inner landscapes.
May we respect and honour the past
And let it inform, but not determine our future.
Let us carry the flame of our connection
Until we meet again, enriched with new memories and experiences.
May it be so.