Slipping away into the next room

I am sitting here with my laptop, writing away as the Celt sits nearby at his. Both of us are wrapped up in our pursuits; both comfortably aware of the proximity of the other.

In the next room, it is quiet. the windows are open and gauzy curtains billow in the half light, the streetlight in the road outside playing with the shadows of roses and their intoxicating perfume drifting inwards.

The next room has two empty armchairs beneath the window to the garden, and a well-stocked bookcase taking up all of one wall. There is a glass case scattered with Little Beloved Things from around the world, and a pine table covered with a cloth. We ate there, lately, before we came in here to rest and then work.

Today, I said goodbye to a man. To a larger-than-life figure, the father of my great friend, a man who was inspirational without being irritatingly saintly: whose acerbic wit lit up any room and set those around him guffawing; a rock to those around him.

He died quite suddenly, of a form of cancer. He leaves my friend his daughter, and all those who loved him and lived close to him, reeling at the gap he seems to have left.

Have you ever had that experience when – whatever the powers that be are – they put weight behind the words of someone who is speaking to you? When suddenly words resound in bold type, if such a thing were possible on an auditory level?

This happened once upon a time around 1910, and made the speaker of the words famous far beyond his sphere. Born into privilege and educated at some of the most prestigious places in England, for just an instant in a sermon more than a century ago, his words acquired that strange bass-relief, standing out from their compatriots.

Henry Scott Holland was a supremely accomplished man. Regus Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, this clergyman was appointed a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral. And one Sunday he seemed mysteriously to migrate , just for a paragraph or so, from his usual well-underpinned sermons. He was speaking to the congregation  following the death of Edward VII.

And this is what he told them:

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room….Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. …. I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. “

Today, this was read at the funeral. And tonight, I keep thinking of the next room. Of its calm and quiet, its air of waiting. Of how very close it is,  and that it is infused with English Summer.

There are some of us that believe death is not the end; others of us who know we will be back for another shot at life by-and-by. And those of us for whom the next room is simply, well,  the next room.

I would wager John is there in the next room some would deny existed; his feet propped comfortably up, conducting a hugely satisfying and voluble life review with some astral agent or other, gauze curtains billowing in the breeze, rose-scent thick on the air.

He is but waiting, for an interval.

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24 thoughts on “Slipping away into the next room

  1. No wonder those words are repeated again and again. Even a dyed-in-the-wool atheist must feel their power.
    This is not an appropriate post for levity, or I would add something on the lines that this would particularly apply to an atheist in the will of the one who had died.

  2. I am sorry about your friend’s father; your friend, too, and I am in a puddle of tears. My dad passed away, of cancer, in a similar, sudden way and it knocked me, all of us, really, for a loop. Henry Scott Holland’s words would have been so fitting then, as they seem so wonderfully fitting now. I’ve copied into my commonplace book, where all good words go. It is in another room, right where I can find it, Kate, with your name attached as well. Take care, dear Kate, as you think of the next room, as well as the room you are in right now.

  3. Those word sent a shiver down my spine, I think the term is ‘somebody walked over my grave’. I’m a crotchety old atheist and confirm what Colonilist says, the words certainly moved me.
    Cancer seems to be pretty choosey methinks; in ’05 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, that was beaten in ’06 and last year, ’15 I was diagnosed with stomach cancer and after a total gastrectomy in June 15, this year my surgeon has declared me free of that cancer. Don’t ask me why I’m being spared, probably just to annoy people I suppose.

  4. Those words and the images evoked provide great comfort to those “left behind” . . . and to those about to set out on the journey from Here to There.

    W.I.P. John

    1. Thank you, Nancy 🙂 It is rather wonderful to us all to think that we are more than the jumble of flesh and blood which walks this globe: that it is just a container for the moment.

      I love W.I.P!

  5. Thankful for your recent emergency poet prescription to help sustain you through this pain of separation. I think of Joy Gresham’s question to C.S. Lewis “Is it worth it? The joy now is part of the sorry then.” My vote … YES it’s worth it. Prayers for comfort for you and all the hearts that are hurting.

  6. Thank you Kate for your gift of wonderful words, I was having another one of my sleepless moments and I reached for my phone to look at photos of my Dad, but saw this. Yesterday was an amazing day for me, to see the church overflowing and meet so many people who had so much respect for my Dad, was overwhelming. I have wept many tears today, I miss my Dad so much my heart is aching, but the words that were read yesterday, that you have written so beautifully about, do give me comfort. Wise words of advice that I can hear my Dad saying to me in my mind. Thank you Kate, and even more so for being there for me too. x

    1. Nix, where else would I be? Your Dad was such a central part of the lives of all of your family, and a friend to all who came in contact with him. I hope sleep comes to you a little more each night, and that you find small pools of happiness in each day, even in such dark times. You are much loved x

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