[The poet Alasdair Maclean's parents were the last crofters in Sanna, a seacoast hamlet in the west highlands. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but it was a hard place to make a living from farming. After many hardships, their life got a bit easier in 1970 when they began to receive an old-age pension from the British government. They died a few months apart, in March and August, 1973.]
"Don't grieve for me," Father had said when he was carried from the house on a stretcher, after his first coronary and before his last one. "I'll be with your mother."
My younger brother had been greatly struck by this anecdote almost in spite of himself. "Do you think there's an after-life?" he asked me now.
I gave the question the serious consideration it deserved. "Who knows?" I said eventually.
"I don't believe it," my brother continued. "Never have done. It's a fairy-story. Yet I like to picture them meeting again. Up there, you know. They've earned that if anybody ever earned it. I like to think of flower-strewn meadows, all that stuff. Father a young man once more, running across the grass. Mother waiting for him. What do you think they would say? How would they greet one another?"
I thought of Mother, her exclamation "My!" when anything impressed her and how much had impressed her despite her unimpressive surroundings. I could not at first get words past the sob in my throat. "O that's easy," I replied when at last I could contort my voice into something resembling normality. "He wouldn't say anything at all. She'd just say, "My! Ian! You weren't long!"
Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul …it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature… literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
be now for ever taken from my sight, though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; we will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.
--William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in "Intimations of Immortality Through Recollections of Early Childhood." The whole poem is here.
Te iam portus habet; nos adhuc iactat abyssus.
Te lux vera tenet; nos tenebrae retinent.
Te cum virginibus comitans, quocumque it, agnum,
lilia cum violis colligis atque rosis;
nos cum coancillis nostris tumulo ecce tuopte
flores spargentes, ducimus excubias.
The world's an inn;
and I her guest. I eat; I drink; I take my rest. My hostess, nature, does deny me nothing, wherewith she can supply me; where, having stayed a while, I pay her lavish bills, and go my way.