The ripples of a life extend so much further than we often imagine.
I went to a friend’s funeral this week, and during the ceremony we were encouraged to remember our friend for all the ways he touched our lives, and to consider how even after his death he would continue to affect the world through our memories and our own actions.
The funeral was led by a humanist. It was the second such funeral I had attended and I remain impressed by their approach, although at times it felt like there was limited comfort in the message that all we are is a brief life on earth, and then a memory in the lives of others. That is more likely a knock to the ego than anything else though.
The humanist approach is to recognise the value of our lives and celebrate it, without resorting to religious explanations or comforts. This can feel quite hard and I don’t personally hold with it entirely. For me, there is something more that as a Quaker I call “the light within”. Beyond that, I cannot say as I have no experience of it. I do not particularly think about any life after death because I am not especially interested in it; I’ll find out in due course, and it won’t affect the way I choose to behave anyway.
Of course, I resorted to quotations to help me remember and encapsulate the thoughts this provoked, being of a wordy nature myself. Initially I thought of the sparrow flying through the windows of the hall, from the dark outside through the light and warmth of the room, then back to the darkness. But the words that come to me most strongly were in fact from the song: “We are stardust, we are golden”.
I have been sure of two things since I was quite young. Firstly, that we don’t all live forever and so one day we will all find out about life after death or not; and secondly, that if trying to do the right thing is not enough then so be it.
The first conviction came in junior school when I had an intense conversation with a teacher about a dead bird I had found. We talked about why death was natural and actually important (well, who would want to be up to one’s eyeballs in sparrows?), and then moved on to the realisation that even parents and I myself would one day contribute to this natural cycle. This was never frightening to me, and felt like the universe was very sensibly arranged.
The second conviction was during a period when a friend’s mother took my spiritual development in hand and ensured I attended church every week with my friend and her sister. Although they were very strict about things like not riding a bicycle on Sundays and so on, the church itself was very welcoming; until I asked an awkward question one day and was thrown out. Discussing it with God later (they had been very strong on individual prayer, so that was a habit) we agreed that to my satisfaction that not everyone approached “being good” in the same way, but that generally people did agree about what “good” meant and we should all try to follow the path. I never went back to that church but I remained happy with the idea of a guiding force and eventually found my place as a member of the Religious Society of Friends.
Back to my friend. Life is about setting the ripples going in the best way we can, trying to touch other lives positively, without assumption if possible about what is “best”. In this he succeeded in so many ways, and I am glad to have known him. And that then reminds me of a Hindu prayer I came across some years ago: