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Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Life seen through a prism
As I crossed the parking lot, I saw a sign marking a "memorial pathway". There is a memorial garden, with a wall containing more familiar names each time I go to visit it, but I didn't remember this pathway. The church moved to this location four years before I left Victoria, and in the intervening sixteen years, I've only caught brief summertime glimpses. Demeter wouldn't be arriving for another fifteen minutes or so, so I climbed the steep dirt path between the ancient trees.
I spotted an Oregon Grape plant, which, despite its name, is native to this area. Demeter planted it in our garden about twenty years ago. The current owners uprooted it ages ago.
There wasn't much time to climb far, so I was soon in my seat, acting as interpreter to Demeter, scribbling notes in my small book when I knew she wasn't able to follow. There is a sound system with a loop that usually works well, but this morning, we were listening to people who weren't experienced in public speaking, and grief-stricken to boot.
He wasn't a man I knew well, for all his deep involvement in church affairs. He was an avowed atheist - Unitarians range from reason-worshipping atheists, humanists, and agnostics, through ethereal and downright wacky Wiccan and Neo-Pagans, to the more traditional theists and Christians. The last group were the dominant group in past centuries in the Unitarian Church, but are now very much in the minority, and of course, it was through Unitarian theism that I came to know his wife twenty years ago.
I was deeply moved to see her singing passionately back to her church sextet, from her seat amongst her children and grandchildren.
Did I feel I knew more about her dead husband after experiencing him through his family and friends?
Well, yes and no.
It occurred to me that a memorial service is rather like a prism. People speak their memories, but the memories are refracted through personality, time, and perspective. The image we get of the dead person may not match the image we had of him while alive. It's not an inaccurate picture, really. Rainbows aren't illusions; they're just light after it's been bent and sorted.
My hostess drove me back to her house to pick up my suitcase and take it back to Demeter's for my final week in Victoria. On the way, we talked about the wide range of beliefs, and she declared that the only combination that she found "ridiculous" were Unitarian Christians. "Well, the Unitarian Church started out as a Christian church..." I began.
I'm a Unitarian by birth, so I really should have known better, having grown up in a church dominated by very determined humanists and agnostics. Besides, apart from being a Leo, my hostess is Dutch.
"No. Christianity is belief in the Trinity. Unitarians are the opposite."
"No. It's ridiculous. We won't discuss it."