In the past few months, I’ve written several times about death in my two series of blogs on the TEDxExeter 2017 theme of HOPE, and on things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle: the death of Carrie Fisher highlighted her last (CGI-created) word in Rogue One; the death of Richard Adams caused me to reflect on the work of Susan Cain on introverted leadership, and how it appears in Watership Down; the death of Hans Rosling made me think about taking responsiblity for our own statistics; and in the last week or so, I’ve considered the response to the Westminster attack and quoted reflections after the death of John Berger.
It is probably one of the ways I am grieving my own father’s death last November. Also, I tend not to be squeamish about talking about death. Death makes me think about life, especially during Spring, and especially especially at Easter. Denial of death, and use of euphemisms like ‘passing’, are much more likely to make me squirm.
I agree with Benjamin Franklin: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Although certainty can for a time be comfortable, it is a living death. For me, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin, and faith and certainty are in opposition to each other. Paying attention to this world and to my life of prayer can only get me so far. How can I possibly know the mind of God? Uncertainty is fruitful, in the mulch of faith.
Ships are not built to stay in harbour, but to put out into the deep. Some may be freighted low in the water; others are short on ballast. Some congregate in flotillas and convoys; others are a lone sail on the horizon. Some are navigationally-challenged and wallow in circles; others find their Polestar and sail straight and true. But all risk storm and doldrum, even those which stay close to harbour tacking to and fro, or which don’t leave at all.
Hope pulls, love pushes, and faith supports. To those of us who will make landfall briefly together at TEDxExeter tomorrow, whether in the Northcott or via the livestream, what are your hopes? What are your hopes for the day, and for your life? What are you going to do about them? As Carol Ann Duffy wrote in Snow, “what will you do now with the gift of your left life?”
Our Speakers will have their own hopes, and tomorrow I hope to hear many of them. Today are the Speaker rehearsals, but this year I won’t be there. I am instead singing at a friend’s funeral. So I will leave you for now with these words from Benedictus by John O’Donohue, which her family has shared. Even in the darkest places and the fiercest storms, there is always hope.
May you be given some inkling
That there could be something else at work
And that what to you now seems
Dark, destructive and forlorn,
Might be a destiny that looks different
From inside the eternal script.
Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller