About an event.

The dark seemed to come early, outside the mullioned windows of a city pub where I drank herb tea in the afternoon with Robin. City lights, the edge of winter and a curious numbness that descends before an event. Often this is a time for quiet contemplation, but in this case it was sound checks, stage managing, and here, Robert making sure I draw things in the right way and don’t make too much mess.

But this wasn’t an ordinary event. This was a fundraising event for Sobell House Hospice, to hopefully bring the art from The Lost Words into the walls of the new wing of the hospice.

The event had grown, in the same way the crowdfunding for books into schools had grown, from a tweet. Robert Macfarlane had tweeted about hospice architecture and mentioned, in passing, that he and I had begun work, with designer Alison O’toole, on the artwork for four floors of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in London. Rachel Clarke saw this, and knowing how the book was being used to help patients in the hospice she works at find peace, a voice, escape she got in touch. And so together the three of us planned.

Around 500 people joined us in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, to talk about art, writing, nature, life and death. I’m still trying to understand what happened next. It wasn’t like being on stage.

We talked a little about the book, its genesis, and some of its wild life, the connection first made between Robert and Rachel, that lynches upon a stone from the Arctic circle, that fits and sits in the palm of a hand and carries with it a deep time in every sense of the word. Joe, who paints birds, spoke, words shared with strangers, precious moments of his life shared as he is so close to the end of his life and how he shines. Such a beautiful man, and such life in his paintings. God but how lucky we all were who shared those moments with him. And Valerie’s daughter. Valerie who has written her own words, illustrated utterly beautifully by her grandchildren, to make the genesis of a family book, a treasure, and how she wrote of the joy of life in a feathered thing. And Ed. Ed who teaches children to see such beauty in the world. His words are shared here, so that those not fortunate enough to be in the audience can share a celebration of a life and a love.

What made this special? The music, both Kerry’s and Diane’s, woven around Robert’s words, Diane’s words. Rachel, whose fierce intelligence and desire to help people live to the last moment, orchestrated the evening. The coming together of people to celebrate life and the wilder world. The strong feeling of hope that thrummed through the room like sap through trees. That warmth. And outside the city buzzed with commerce but in that space, for a moment it seemed it was time to stop, take stock, move forward with life. Did others feel it so? Did everyone there take away something different?

I think it was good that there was a reception at Blackwells afterwards and can I give a huge thank you to Blackwells for donating a percentage of sales to the hospice. Thanks to all who bought at the auction.

I would love to hear what others thought of the event, how it left them, what they took away. Do others feel that connection with the natural world that stills the heart, drops away the tensions, lifts the soul? I come back again to that brief moment in time, watching a sparrowhawk take out a small song from the sky as it hunted. It’s not that the natural world is a benign blanket to wrap up in. It’s fierce, can be deadly, and yet always it is the trees I turn to, the birds, weather, the sound of wild water in the form of rain, river or sea. Do others feel like that? Please tell me.

These words haunted me through the evening, by Raymond Carver, and then, later.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

We wanted to leave the audience with a gift. I had asked Chris Jelley if he could put a film together with the music for the bluebell song by Kerry Andrew. The beauty of Kerry’s voice entwined with Robert’s words is wonderful. I find myself returning again and again to the peace of it. Do listen with headphones.

Bluebell Spell – The Lost Words from Christopher Jelley on Vimeo.

And what was that evening about? Partly to raise money for the artwork to be on the hospital walls. The costs arise in printing and design as Robert and I are donating the words and the images. But mostly to celebrate the work of the hospice, the love and the light.

If you were there can you tell me, what did you take away from the night?

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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14 Responses to About an event.

  1. I was there. It was a magical event, celebrating life, nature, art, words, families, medical/ health care and community. Thank you.

  2. Chris Wordsworth says:

    It was extraordinary- such eloquence, both verbally and visually as well as acoustically. I was in bits but put together by the overwhelming love in that wonderful space. It was a special Oxford moment in time.

  3. Sophia Swithern says:

    My brain is still trying to make sense of what happened at the Sheldonian last night, but I know that my soul was lifted and my heart grew bigger. I think all 500 of us left that hall somehow changed, having seen and heard the very best of humanity. We were at the event with our kids – today they woke up wanting to go for nature walks and paint. We spent the day discovering mushrooms in the bracken and painting wrens and otters and being hugely grateful. Thank you Jackie for giving us something extraordinary.

  4. Briony says:

    I don’t think it was the evening I was expecting, but I was moved to tears on several occasions watching your otter emerge in front of us as you spoke the spell and hearing from Joe and Ed.

    The next morning as I walked my dog in the park amongst the autumn leaves reflecting, I was filled with emotion and cried again, thinking about my father who died 28 years ago when I was 17. So important to share that loss and feel it again – we don’t have enough chances for it.

  5. Sophia says:

    My brain is still trying to make sense of what happened in that magic hall, but I know my soul was lifted and my heart was made bigger. I think that all lucky 500 of us left the Sheldonian somehow, profoundly, changed because we saw and heard the very best of humanity on that stage.
    We were there with our two kids and they woke up today wanting to go on a nature walk and paint. We spent the day discovering mushrooms in golden bracken and painting pictures – yes, of otters and wrens – and feeling deeply grateful to be in the world. Thank you Jackie. Extraordinary.

  6. Sarah says:

    I couldn’t be there, sadly but I still feel the emotions, the striving for a better life, a more fair society

  7. Judy says:

    I was there too, the silent warmth of the listeners was a palpable thing, the words , the poems, the paintings made the evening poignant and extraordinary.

  8. Bernie Bell says:

    I wasn’t there. But I LIVE.
    “All are one, and one, is all.”

  9. sheila says:

    I have just listened to Diane again and was taken back to the Sheldonian and the spirit of the evening I don’t know how to describe but how privileged I was to share the evening with so many inspirational People

  10. Ed Finch says:

    Hi Jackie,
    I wrote this. It’s too long and doesn’t make much sense. See if there’s anything in there you can use to think with.

    • Bernie Bell says:

      I don’t know about ‘making sense’, and I don’t know how much making sense, matters. It does…flow, and work, as what it is – a piece of heart-felt expression of ..feeling. And it is not, in any way, too long.

      It looks to me, like that evening, gave some folk what Nan Shepherd called ‘leave to live’ – or leave to feel. Many walk around with feeling – their own feelings and a feeling for what’s around them, closed up inside them. Then, something happens which opens the doors to feeling – to living – and – it looks like that was something of what happened at Sobell House, that evening.

      What a true piece of living magic.

      As Kingfishers Catch Fire
      Gerard Manley Hopkins

      As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
      Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
      Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
      Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

      I say móre: the just man justices;
      Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
      Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
      Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
      Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
      To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

    • Bernie Bell says:

      Oh dear. It wasn’t at Sobell House, it was at the Sheldonian – I knew that – I get confused. Tired old brain. At least I didn’t type Brian – I usually do.

  11. Alison Martin says:

    Extremely moving and sad but also uplifting and comforting. My dear husband, Peter Martin, died 3 months ago in St Michael’s Hospice, Hereford. The doors of his room were open and an owl hooted outside shortly after he died (he loved owls). He loved nature and art and spent his final months framing illustrations from “The Lost Words”, given to him by our daughter. They now adorn the walls of our house and are a constant reminder of how they truly enhanced the end of his life. The evening helped me understand and value how intense and loving his final months were. The Raymond Carver poem was included in the Order of Service for his funeral. Thank you Jackie and Robert for such a truly special and significant evening. Thank you also to the brave and admirable people who shared their stories – my heart goes out to them and their families. Peter’s final outing was to his granddaughter’s school sports day, where he sat for 2 hours under green trees and a blazing blue sky, looking at beautiful Welsh hills – the event opened my eyes to how precious that was.

  12. Avril Horn says:

    I was there, on the evening of my 60th birthday, with my rather bemused, but supportive husband.

    I had gone to see you paint and to hear Robert speak and was unprepared for the speakers from the hospice community. While at times, listening to the speakers was emotionally draining, we both came away uplifted and vowing to live our best lives every day: to walk outside more; to keep the (until-then!) rather irritating yew tree in our garden because of the bird life it attracts; to sing more; to create more; to enjoy the rather haphazard communications from our sons rather than to get irritated with not knowing when they will happen; to seek joy in everything.

    Thank you all.

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