On Armistice Day, and the college gathered together in the quad to remember those who have died in wars and conflicts. Tutors and students gathered, admin staff and kitchen staff, monks, visitors and builders working on the church all gathered. The list of those from the college who had died as chaplains and soldiers in two world wars, was read and The Last Post was played from the top of the tower, five storeys up.
Afterwards, and after a cup of coffee, my little girl and I went for a walk round the grounds, beyond the goldfish pond and the orchard we came to the monks’ graveyard, and she asked me to read out what the words on the wooden crosses said… I told her the names that were there, and what RIP meant, and explained that they had died, mostly in old age, in bed, and that since they did not need their bodies now that they were worn out and broken, the bodies had been buried, I felt a little nervous that some of the ideas might be complicated, or misunderstood, but I told her that the poppies we were wearing were to remember people who hadn’t died in bed when they were old, but had died suddenly in wars, often when they weren’t very old at all.
She asked how the monks had died in bed, and I did a little impression of a very tired old man telling God he was tired -and then going very still. And then she asked me how people died in wars… and I told her that they die in all sorts of ways, and quite often it hurts and quite often it is a surprise and they are young and not ready to die. And then she sat down on the gravel and asked me again, how do people die in wars… and I said that sometimes a bomb hits a building and a big stone hits them and they die, and sometime they might be injured and might fall in water and drown… but that the reason it is so sad and terrible is that it is other people who make them die… that people make other people die when they are still young and not really ready and their families are sad that they won’t see them again on earth.
She and I frowned thoughtfully. And she asked again, but how do people die in wars. And I said, in all sorts of ways… but it is really sad because they are not old and tired and ready to die, but surprised and not ready, and their families are not ready. Then she asked, pointing at the monks graves, ‘and how did they die?’ And I said, sometimes they were ill for a while, but mostly they were just very old, and very tired, and their bodies were worn out and they were ready to go to God…
I picked up a fallen leaf that was fresh and yellow… and said… do you see this leaf <she looked> well it was on the tree before wasn’t it, all fresh and green, and the tree was beautiful… well now look at the tree -it is bare, and the leaves are on the ground… the leaf is not alive anymore… (I picked up a curling leaf that was going brown)… this leaf has been dead for a while... (and another that was dry grey and colourless) and this one has been dead for ages, they are no use to the tree anymore… (then I found a hard smooth leaf stalk bare as a bone) and after a while this is all that is left...
She took the stiff brown stalk and looked at it rather sadly and with some anxiety. That is a bit like what happens to people’s bodies when they die and are not needed anymore, I said, pointing to the graveyard. That seems very sad doesn’t it <she nodded> but the tree is not dead… and it doesn’t need them anymore, and it doesn’t hurt the leaves to be dead…
Then we started to walk again, and she said again… ‘But how do people die?’
And I said, all sorts of ways, and it is almost always a surprise, because none of us knows when we are going to die, but the nicest way to die is when you are ready, after a long and busy and interesting life, to get very old and tired, and then to be in bed, with your family around you and to be ready to go to God… but some people are quite young and sometimes it hurts a bit, and their friends and families are not ready.
<we walked on for a moment>…’Look, mummy, I’m not stepping on the leaves‘ she said, walking carefully around them. ‘You mustn’t worry about the leaves, I said, they are only leaves, and it doesn’t hurt them to be trodden on… and besides you were walking over where Brother Cyprian and Brother Aidan’s bodies are buried before… and it doesn’t do them any harm either, because they are not using their worn out bodies anymore, they are with God.‘ Still she walked round the leaves, so I took her hand and said… ‘look… look up at the tree… the leaves are dead but that doesn’t matter because the tree is still alive… come and touch it…‘ <she did>
It is sad, I said, if you think that there will be no more leaves, but next year there will be leaves… and it is sad if you know you are not going to see someone again on earth because they have died and are gone… it is very sad… But we know we will have new bodies because Jesus showed us that we are not gone forever… it doesn’t stop death being sad or sometimes hurting… but it doesn’t stay sad forever.
We especially remember people who have died in wars today, because lots of people die in wars and it hurts and they are often quite young and not ready, and their families are not ready. So we ask God to help us to stop having wars.”
“Let’s go and see the chickens” she said.