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?
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.
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?