whispered love
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December 2nd 2006: Disappearances (2)

Yesterday I wrote about the vikings in Greenland, and how - in a matter of years - they had disappeared: their homes abandoned, their lives just gone... as if someone had wiped them off the face of the earth. Stumbling on their forgotten houses, hidden by the overgrowth of 500 years, I reflected on how these disappearances effect us too. How we, in turn, are so soon gone, forgotten, erased by relentless time.

Even in the span of our own short lives, people who loved us just disappear. We loved them and we knew them - know them - but in a generation or two they (like us) will probably be completely unknown... as if they'd never existed.

I recall my grandfather, Michael Henderson: an accessible, emotional man with a gentle kindness. He always showed his love to me and dared to express his inner feelings. I valued him enormously. And my own father, who died in my arms: what... twenty-four years ago now, but already it seems like another world.

When my mother died, after a sad decline into dementia, we dismantled their whole life... a ramshackle pile of possessions, boxed up, and dispersed... just a bag of flat photographs left behind... snapshots, memories... disappeared moments, disappeared summers, disappeared lives.

It's the same round about us. Even our way of life, in the end, becomes history. I live on the edge of the Chilterns, and the woods and valleys all echo with the memory of the Saxons... the Saxon language reverberating down the centuries in place-names that persist, that I grew up with, that seemed familiar. Yet even the English way of life, that persisted 1500 years, is disappearing, the relationship with the land all but abandoned, the rhythm of the farming year replaced by urban life and tarmac meadows, and global migration that will create a new, but different, world. Like the vikings in Greenland, like Arthur's society facing collapse and defeat, like Ur of the Chaldees... each society becomes history as time just carries on and on.

When I climbed in the Scottish Highlands, I would often walk for days in its remote glens, and barely meet a person. The highlands are wild and lonely - just ravens wheeling in reclusive corries, and rushing streams cutting down through abandoned valleys. Yet once, before the ethnic cleansing we call 'the clearances', these glens were inhabited by living communities... gaelic speaking, a whole way of life. Now, descending from the mountains at dusk, I will stumble across a pile of stones, find a lintel, recognise a dwelling. Where are the children, shouting and playing, the family at the hearth, the laughter and the love? All disappeared. Just the wind and rushing water.

Overhead, at nightfall, the stars measure out the brevity of our presence. Billions of stars, billions of years, and even our whole human race just a part, just a glimmer - in a vastness that will entomb us.

Draw close, love: for here and now we are living, and we will soon be gone. Let us love, because love is the defiance of the darkness that engulfs; love is the assertion of life; love that exists forever in the here and now.

Hold me when I am scared, and I will hold you. And in the morning, when we awake: we shall behold the face of God.


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