Dad’s lymphoma came back this year and as he was in steady decline over the last month, I was inspired to write this piece for him in the middle of one sleepless night. I read it to him the week before he died. He “mmm”ed after every sentence. I read it again this Wednesday at his memorial meeting at St George’s Hall in Bewdley with over 90 of his friends and family, celebrating his life. Dear dad, we shall miss you.
You are walking through a field, it’s a field of barley. The crop is tall, waist height and you are walking along a footpath, right through the middle of the field. You run your hand through the barley and it’s not ripe, it’s still green and soft to the touch. The head of the plant is fascinating and you study its geometrically precise, tiny detail.
It’s a warm day and you have your shorts on, you feel a light breeze on your knees as you make your way through the field. The breeze moves the barley and it sways in swathes, creating patterns in the crop of light and shade. You hear the soft rush of this movement and also the twittering of larks, heralding your passing by. The sun is warm but not hot, you feel it on your head and your arms, it is comforting.
You are not alone, there are people with you on this walk. We are there, mum and I, Paul is and all the family. Friends that you can picture now are there with you. Friends from university, friends from teaching, friends from Stockport, friends from here. Some look as they do today, some are as you knew them then. You have a sense of all of them around you, but you are at the front of the group. You are leading the way. You move quickly through the crop with a slight skip to your step. You possess a deer like energy, and you are steady on the path in your sandals, with socks of course.
Up ahead you can see a tree. The tree is a copper beech. It marks the end of this field and the start of the next. It stands out against the blue of the sky and is an almost perfect circle of dark red leaves. You know there is a gate at the divide, and you wish to get there first. Not to beat everyone else but to help them get through the gate. You hold the gate open whilst everyone goes through. You smile at them all, they smile back and, without exception, thank you for holding the gate for them.
You see them head off through the next field of barley. A single line but a line of everyone you know and love. As you close the gate behind you and make sure it’s secure you take a moment to look back at the peace of the field you’ve gone through and then turn and face the backs of the friends and family plodding on up ahead.
You set off again. The path through the barley is sandy and as you look down you see many tiny ladybirds, walking across the path. There’s too many to count. Not all together but every few feet there’s another one or two. Making their way to see or do something ladybirdy. You take care not to step on them.
Your pace is swift and you soon catch up with the tail end of the line. The path is wide enough for two and you pass along the line, overtaking one person at a time. They say hello as you pass and grin in your direction, they are not surprised to see you doing this.
You move onwards through the field, and alongside and beyond the friends you are with. There are quite a few of us walking but this field is bigger, and the path is long. Most people are walking in silence but gladly greet you as you go by. The background sound is the sound of footsteps walking together, the song of the larks, and the crops and trees swishing gently in the breeze.
You see in the distance a gap in the hedge. It’s a hawthorn hedge covered with little white flowers. There are tiny birds flitting in and out of the foliage. Nesting you think. The path goes through this gap and continues on the other side. It isn’t clear what is beyond the gap because the sun is now low in the sky. You look into the sunlight but it is too bright. You suspect it will be as beautiful as the fields through which you have just been.
You are now, once again, leading the way. You don’t look back but you sense the support of those behind you. They are there still, following in your dusty footprints, watching your back as you stride on ahead. The sensation deepens into one of peace and of love. You feel this love envelop you and fill your whole body with a glowing warmth. This is your love. You deserve and embrace the feeling as you slip through the gap in the hedge and into the fading sunlight.