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.