Funeral Address

In October 1995 I suffered a minor stroke, defined by the neurologists as an occlusion of the distal internal carotid artery. For some two or three weeks I was prevented from sleeping by bad headaches. I did not think that I was dying, but I spent time clearing out my files, destroying papers, and roughing out ideas as to how my funeral might be conducted.
These included an address which could be read for me, but spoken as it were in my own name. Here it is.Quote close

What have the living and the dead to celebrate together when we meet like this at a funeral?

Those of you who have heard me lecturing over the years will know my answer: Time. Time is given into our keeping. We meet together to keep time.

The time we live by is measured by us. Life is for timing just as time is for living. Time beats, and the beat is in our keeping.

The beat strikes. And we are stricken.

But there is music to be. heard.Quote close

As is said at the conclusion of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale:

Music, awake her; strike!
‘Tis time; descend; be stone no more, approach;
Strike all that look upon with marvel.Quote close

To hear that music strike we must take this and every funeral with us into the world.

Remember, please, what I have said and written so often. There are all sorts of political, economic, ecological problems which will prove too much for us if we forget that time is given into our keeping. Funerals are an opportunity to remember.

Time is both gift and responsibility, responsibility and gift. How can that be?

There is a beat to be caught, a beat in which gift and responsibility come together. Funerals are an opportunity to catch that beat, together, living and dead, and to hold it in our keeping. Think of that when you go on to refresh yourselves after this service, as I hope you will. The change of mood between church and the refreshment afterwards can be difficult. But it is in just such changes of mood that we can catch the beat of time.

Remember another Shakespeare text, from Twelfth Night, the reply to Malvolio’s ‘Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?’, to which Sir Toby answers ‘We did keep time, sir, in our catches’.

Oh, our catches! Some of you will have shared with me in our week ends at Hawkwood, when we used to enact all those stories and plays together. Can you remember the catch of breath as we moved from rehearsal to live performance?

In rehearsal, we could always start again, yet there was never enough time. In performance, we just had to go on, yet there was always the time we needed. As we moved from rehearsal to live performance, time changed. Its tense was different. That change in tense brought the play to life.

The same change in tense is with us now. This place is charged with it.

Tell me: which of us is in rehearsal, which in live performance?

There is never enough time. There is all the time we need. Somehow (God only knows how) both are true, if only we can catch the beat.

Which is why we are here. Now. Hereafter. Like it was and like it will be, it is still ‘once upon a time’.

Still. A still beat. We are come together, to catch that beat.’ you and I,