When the sunlight shows itself in London, wise people get out and enjoy it; one never knows when it’ll return. I’ve caught on quickly, only after regretfully missing precious rays, destined to wait out the rain who knows how long before having the opportunity again. I try not to limit my outings only to the light, but I tend to forge ahead despite the weather, exploring the many paths along the Thames, near my place.
Past Hammersmith Bridge, past the rowing clubs that dot the river as often as the characteristic pubs, past the beautiful English homes with detached gardens with willows bowing toward the river, there is a cemetery I love. I first noticed it a few weeks ago while riding a Barclay’s rent-a-bike along the river as far as I could until the path seemed to end. There, dangling on the chainlink fence, was a baby’s pacifier. Innocently hung, I presumed, after a do-gooder walked along the sidewalk and noticed it — lost in haste from a hurried mother’s stroller. A day away, an hour away, minutes or a mile away, she is near desperation while her baby cries, inconsolable without it. Here, the old man in the hat probably thought. I’ll hang it here, right where I found it. Perhaps the mother will return on her way home and notice it and think, “What a nice person to leave this here for me to find.”
Did he or did he not find the irony in his gesture?
Yesterday I counted the rings on a tree that had been cut down along the Thames. I stood on the stump, looked into the setting sun and then squatted to count. Pressing my fingers between the lines, I lost track after forty-five — there was too much dirt and dust and the tree had not grown much in those years. My eyes grew weak and dizzy; the lines blurred. But I would guess it would have been about sixty before it stopped living.
This was right before I encountered a fallen tree alongside the water’s edge. The tree had fallen in such a way that it had uprooted itself entirely. Yet it did was not dead. The branches stretched out over the water and, if you looked closely, the tree shading the fallen tree is actually the same tree: it is a root that took flight and became more than a root. Remarkably, it became its own tree.
Maybe here it’s well-known tradition to plant something on someone’s grave. Maybe this is a ritual that’s practiced all over the place. But it’s one that’s new to me. I see a twisted trunk engaged in a balancing act. It juts out from the base of a tombstone. Year of death, 1938. Age: six. Name: Dearlove. An unstoppable life-force from the grave.
And then there are more.
The unrecognizable plant that has been chopped back.
Its abbreviated limbs pose the everpresent question in this churchyard: what happened?
Yet the answer is as rhetorical (if there could ever be such a thing) as the question: life happened.
Whatever that means. Whatever form that takes.
I certainly do not know what this weird life is sometimes. What this living then dying is all about. Most days I try and make my own meaning. Most days I do my best to practice gratitude and look at what I have and not at what I don’t. Most days I like to think I succeed at doing this. I try to be honest about it. Then I decide to visit the dead. To see what they have to say about it. I am alone in this gigantic place with hundreds of souls. Just them and me and the magpies and the squirrels on a rather sunny Saturday morning. So here’s what they get up to, I think. It feels sort of morbid from a human perspective but there’s something deeper and truer that’s there; it has nothing to do with death. I see these living things expanding from the earth and whatever lies underneath it and perhaps it’s the most alive part of me that feels a surge of delight. My soul claps and giggles. I am reminded, yes, there can be something to it. For what we perceive is the end is not the end. The sunshine always returns, whether we are witness or not. Here or there, light hits us all at the same time. Wherever we might be. The effect is the same. And what a gift that is.