In my previous newsletter in July, I celebrated the life and death of Morag Anderson. Her sister asked me to conduct the memorial service at the House of an Art Lover. What a privilege. I’ve spoken at many funerals, but never conducted the whole service. There were over a hundred people. Near the beginning, I invited a young opera singer, who knew Morag since before she was born. She started to sing Ae Fond Kiss; after the first line tears pouring down her cheeks stopped her voice. I invited her mother – one of Morag’s best friends, to stand by her daughter. She started again, and I’ve never heard Ae Fond Kiss sung more beautifully. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The rest of the service went smoothly – the room filled with equal amounts of laughter and tears. Near the end, I read a poem – Thread – I wrote for Morag, and read to her a few days before she died. During the reception, after the service, several people came up to me and asked me: “Will you do mine?” ! On the anniversary of her death in 2018, I will publish a pamphlet of 20 poems and letters by Morag.
Not long before Morag died, I was at the StAnza poetry festival hosting a tribute to my dear friend Sandy Hutchison – and the event was filmed by Stuart Platt and posted on vimeo.
About the same time, Helen Lamb died. For the past few years, Helen has been a key player in Lapidus Scotland developing our facilitator toolkit Words Work Well Scotland. Re-printed below is a tribute to Helen I wrote for her funeral.
i.m Helen Lamb
Helen, there’s heavy rain, gale force winds here by Loch Craignish – everyone you know will be storming too, now your long nights are over re-writing your novel or trouble-shooting all those family matters; and there’ll be no more muttering in the morning about the things you haven’t done: manuscripts and essays still to read and mark, not another draft grant application to proof-read and improve my clumsy syntax.
No more tutorials, no more meetings, no more workshops, no more readings; someone else will have to do it all – you’ve done your bit and did your best – you can stop now, take a break and rest assured the long nights are over, your storm has passed, but we will continue. We must continue to knock on the doors of Creative Scotland, The Scottish Book Trust, the National Lottery, NHS Education – all those people.
Look at you in that photo only three weeks ago –
where words worked well for all, a big happy smile holding up your dear friend Magi’s latest book of poems: Washing Hugh MacDiarmid’s Socks.
There’s nothing more you need to do, no more muttering in the morning –your work is done, it’s time to play: Warrior-Woman-Writer-Worker: your horse is spent, your time is up Helen, storm is over. None of us will be the same without you.
PSP’s next publication will be Autumn Voices in March 2018. The author and editor of the book is Robin Lloyd Jones -recently came on a week-long retreat I was leading in the Trossach mountains combining writing with meditation and tai-chi. A few days into the retreat he wrote the following piece and read it aloud to everyone on the retreat:
MY FRIEND DEATH
Someone once said that life is like a good novel – You don’t want it to end, but to be any good it does need to have an ending.
For me, one of the greatest glories of nature is the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth – on all its scales, from the millions of years it takes for mountains to rise up and be worn down, then rise again, to the seasons of the year and the life-cycle of a fruit fly. I want to be part of that great cycle. Not to be part of it renders life almost meaningless.
But for the fact of death, none of us would be here now. If some amphibious creature that crawled out of the primeval ocean had become immortal, evolution would have stopped at that point and there would be no human race. So, I am profoundly grateful to death for my existence, my life.
When I was in my 70s it was discovered that I had prostate cancer in a very advanced stage, which meant It had almost certainly spread to vital organs. You could never be sure, the consultant said, but possibly I had only two months to live. The news didn’t seem all that terrible to me. What I was sorriest about was that I couldn’t spend longer with the people I loved. But I really could not complain. I’d had a good life. My wife, who was a nurse and who has seen many people die, tells me that given a choice between dying too soon or too late, too soon is by far the better option.
A few months before receiving this diagnosis I had said to a friend: ‘Whatever happens to me from now on, however awful or disastrous, I will still be one of the luckiest 1% of the world’s population.’ I had in mind the starving millions, the homeless, the victims of war and violence and those who never got a chance in life to fulfil their potential.
So, as I say, I had no complaints. It is easier to let go, I think, when matters are resolved, when you have done most of the things you want to do and, above all, when you have found a path to gratitude and forgiveness.
Dhanakosa, October 2017
PS: After radiotherapy and hormone therapy, the cancer was completely cured. My PSA level is now nil.
Then later in the same week, he went for a walk on his own, and didn’t come back!
THOSE TEN HOURS ON THE HILL
The accident happened on the hills north of Loch Voil at 1.00 pm on Wednesday 25th October and I was found at 11.00 that night. I was on a week-long retreat at the Dhanakosa Buddhist Centre. Wednesday was a break from the usual routine of Tai Chi, meditation and writing. We could do what we liked as long as we observed the rule of silence from 7 pm the previous day to 7 pm that evening. Because, at age 83, I go too slowly for most hillwalkers, and because I knew I would be stopping every other minute to take photographs, I had chosen to walk alone. . . .Read more
The Poet’s Way 2018
Awakening to the power of poems to compliment & enhance our spiritual practice
Sundays from 5pm (for a 5:30 start) to 9pm 21 Jan 18 Feb 18 Mar 15 Apr 13 May 24June 19 Aug 16 Sep 21 Oct 18 Nov 9 Dec
At the Glasgow Buddhist Centre
329 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3HW
Bring a poem to share – with 4 copies – yours or by someone else. Bring writing materials and vegetarian food to share.
To find out more & book a place – contact:
25th January – 2nd February 2018 with Vajragupta, Larry Butler & Linda France
time to write, time to play and walk in the wild-winter landscape
DHANAKOSA Buddhist Retreat Centre,
Balquhidder,Lochearnhead, FK19 8PQ,
Tel: 01877 384 213 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
IT TAKES A LIFETIME TO BECOME YOURSELF
by KAY CARMICHAEL
One of the first PlaySpace Publications was a pamphlet of 20 poems by Kay Carmichael printed and distributed to everyone who attended her funeral.
‘We can only honour life through an awareness of death.’