In Memory of John Royden Clarke

Monday 19 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on …

When I was diagnosed with CBD almost 4 years ago now, and given a time frame of how much time I had left on this earth, I remember an ex-colleague and very good friend of ours, John Clarke (not to be confused with John Royden Clarke), saying the following to me:

“Ed, before you go, I can assure you, there will be many other friends who will go before you!”

And, so it has been over the last four years that relatives, friends, neighbours, old people, young people, ex-colleagues and ex-pupils of mine have gone and left us behind. 

The question is often asked and debated “Is it better to have prior warning like me and to be told that you have so many months or years left, or is it easier to be taken suddenly in a car accident or a heart attack or something similar?”

I guess there is no definitive answer. Whichever way it comes, it comes with heart sore, tears, regrets, if only’s and maybe’s.

I have written before about The Circle of Life. We all know that our time is finite. We all know that, like the song, There’s many a winding turn. Unlike that song The Road is NOT Long – it is, in fact, a short dead end road on this earth.

One of the reasons I continue to write these blogs, BRAINSTORMS, and to broadcast the radio programme, ED is in WED, is to encourage people to make the most of every day. Last week, we spoke on air about going to the Biltong Festival. I was so pleased to meet up with many people who said they had heard that discussion and had decided to go.

Too many of us – and I include myself – put off something that brings us joy just because we didn’t think about it, didn’t have it on our schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from our routine. How many of us plan things for our retirement? – and never get to retire?

Read my blog Thank You Gentlemen for playing with me tonight and just think about the people on the Titanic who, in an effort to cut back, decided not to have desert at dinner that fateful night!

How often don’t we decline dinner invitations because the meat has already been taken out of the fridge? How often don’t I spend time on my PC in silence or watch a TV programme when the kids have dropped in to talk?

How often do we decline because “I can’t”, “I have clothes on the line”, “My hair is dirty”, “You should have called yesterday”, “It’s Monday”, or “It looks like rain”?

We live on a sparse diet of promises we make to ourselves when all the conditions are perfect! We’ll entertain when we have painted the house. We’ll visit when we go that way sometime. We’ll go on holiday when the kids leave school or when we retire.

Life has a way of accelerating as we get older. The days get shorter and the list of promises to ourselves gets longer. Often, all we have to show for our lives is a litany of  “I’m going to”, “I plan on”, and “Someday”.

Have you ever watched kids playing on a merry-go-round

Or listened to the rain lapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight

Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

Do you run through each day on the fly?

When you ask ‘How are you?’ Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed

With the next hundred chores running through your head?

Ever told your child, “We’ll do it tomorrow.”

And in your haste, not seen his sorrow?

Ever lost touch? Let a good friendship die?

Just call to say “Hi”

When you worry and hurry through the day,

It is like an unopened gift…Thrown away…

Life is not a race. Take it slower.

Hear the music before the song is over.

Last year in March 2009, I watched rugby at the Graeme College festival in Grahamstown. After the game (and long before a group of us visited the Rat and watched from the Settler’s Monument the sun rise over Grahamstown at 5am the next morning!) I met up with Old Grey and ex-scholar of mine, John Royden Clarke, and his wife, Marian, from Alexandria. Over a beer, we chatted extensively about the old times and Life.

John also lived in the hostel with me at Grey in 1984/85 and he matriculated in 1985. Just two months ago, we celebrated their 25th Reunion. We chatted some more! And you may have read some of that chatting in Time in a Bottle and Smell the Roses.

Last Saturday, John was doing what he enjoyed – playing golf. He had a heart attack on the golf course in Graaff-Reinet and passed away. His road on this earth had been but 40 years long.

The tributes on Face Book from his classmates say it all. One reads: God took a big tree off earth but it will fit nicely in Heaven.

Marian, Jessica and Jarryd: It’s not easy to fill the hole that is left by the roots of such a big tree. But listen to the words of the song To make You Feel my Love that Bob Dylan made famous. John would have meant those words for you.

And Jesus means those words for you, too, in these times especially. May He comfort you and give you His Peace.

For the rest of us: Life may not be the party we hoped for… but while we are here we might as well dance!

John Amatt said “Adventure isn’t hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life – facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential.”

(Acknowledgement to an unsolicited unauthored email received this week)