England: A walk in the park
It was the day after Whitney Houston’s funeral.
I was looking forward to my walk in the park. Overnight there had been a frost but the early morning sun had melted the ice away. Now, at 11 a.m., the first light clouds had begun to move in from the west; the weathermen had said that warmer weather was on its way. The panel at the entrance to the park reminded me that I was in the ‘historic green heart’ of the town. But it didn’t really feel as if I was in the heart of the town; it felt more like I was in a landscape painting that had been hung above the roof of the town. It seemed to me that the heart of the town was a mobile phone in an office chatting to another mobile phone in another office.
I decided to take a long path that runs from the south to the north of the park. About fifty yards along the path I came to a perfect kind of memorial. It was a bench inscribed with the words:
A RESTING PLACE – A PLACE TO REST FOR MEMORIES OF OUR MUM
ANN P. CONSTABLE (1938 – 2004)
As I took in the meaning of the bench and its surroundings I thought of the contrast between the single-line simplicity of the memorial and the long-drawn out funeral ceremony that had taken place the day before – the funeral ceremony of Whitney Houston. The BBC 24 hour news channel had broadcast much, perhaps most, of it. Occasionally I had glanced at the TV screen waiting for the news but I kept seeing bits of the funeral. It wouldn’t go away. It went on and on and on. I suppose the funeral of a superstar like Whitney Houston has to be commensurate with super-stardom. I suppose that’s why there were choirs dressed in white and a number of famous people who came along to sing and to speak. But instead of hearing simple things I heard a kind of language that was cut loose from the moorings of reality. For example, one preacher declared: ‘Whitney is here with us: I mean, Whitney lives in God’s love and God is with us and God’s love is with us, and Whitney, in God’s love, is with us – and Whitney lives in Joy. For Love is Joy and Joy is Love: to be in God’s Love is to be in Joy. Whitney is here with us in everlasting Joy; she is truly in Heaven.’
It went on like that. The words floated in a world of their very own; they drifted endlessly in combinations of perfect abstraction. Meanwhile Ann P. Constable’s bench was solid and grounded; it had definite edges. After a while I moved on: the south-to-north path crossed a stream and climbed for about half a mile towards a long ridge; along the way I passed other memorial benches; each had good and sincere things to say. Then, I came to the last of those benches; upon it was written:
ANNE AND BRUNO’S REST
Can there ever be a better inscription? I stopped to think on this. No, I couldn’t see how there could be a better one: it said everything that needed to be said. I sat down on the bench. I wanted to see what it was that Anne and Bruno might have seen: I looked to the south. Far across the park, I could see a great cedar of Lebanon, black-green in the distance, a fine tree set against the blue-grey of an English sky. Nearby, I saw the plain dark-grey of a dozen mole-hills – and then I heard the scuffle of squirrels amongst the fallen leaves.
And what else?
Anne and Bruno could see the lovely muted colours of winter: the bleached bracken and the long searching strands of bramble, with leaves fading from green to purple. They could hear the psalm of a stream not more than 20 yards away; and then, the faint faraway cries of happy children. And, close by, an aged solitary tree, its trunk polished silver-grey, as if swathed in steely armour: a sentinel for Anne and Bruno. I stayed a little longer. Not so long ago, Anne and Bruno might have glanced at each other as they heard Whitney Houston singing: ‘And I will always love you.’
Then I began to re-trace my steps. Someone was calling for their dog. The dog was called Dylan; and, moments later someone else was calling their dog. This time the dog was called Christie. Good names for dogs. Finally, as I was leaving for home, I saw a single daffodil turning from January green to February yellow. It had been a good walk in the park.