A welcome sight for many occurs around this time of year. Unopened flowers atop green stems begin to appear a few inches above ground and we breath a collective sigh of relief – the British winter is almost over for another year!
As we suspiciously peer out of our windows and from under hats and hoods we carefully begin to embrace the change of season. Spring begins to paint landscapes for so long grey and dreary, full of colour once again. Trees are decorated in pink in white blossom that appears as if from nowhere, birds sing as though discovering their voices for the first time and those unopened flowers atop green stalks open to become beautiful bright yellow daffodils.
Daffodils can give a sense of joy, they hint at possibilities – a fresh start. They bring a very personal, inspiring symbolism to my own life.
Around this time last year our dad passed away. It’s nothing unusual really, everyone’s dad and mum will pass away at some point but i think they are probably significant events for most people.
My sister and I hadn’t seen him in a good few years. We didn’t ever fall out but after he had divorced our mum he married again and moved away to be with his new wife. We both had good times visiting in school holidays but as we got older we had difficulties with his wife and we drifted away from him whilst staying close to our mum.
A year and a half before he passed I was walking along the canal near Camden Town and felt a sudden urge to ring him.
It was a lovely surprise to hear the joy in his voice when he realised who was on the other end of the phone. He told me he had been very ill and I could hear an old man’s voice in place of the booming tones I once been used to and last heard around 2005. The little niggles that had once come between us and the disappointment he had felt at my choice of career were not aired and I got the feeling he had let it all go. 25 years previously he had called me crazy for giving up my job as a bookbinder to become a musician. I was being fast tracked into management and we had a bet to see if I could have more people working for me by age 28 than he had. Then I go and call him out of the blue to say I was giving it all up to become a drummer! Looking back I could understand the way he felt but I had to go with my heart and it seems now like a ‘Sliding doors’ type of scenario with a totally different life as the result of one choice.
So it was such a blessing that in what turned out to be the last conversation I would have with him (in the traditional sense at least) he was encouraging when I told him I was now writing songs as well. “If you’ve got a song son, then do it and sing it to the world” spoke the croaky voice at the other end of the phone line. He ended the call as I would have probably talked all day and the next time I phoned a year later it was to be told by his wife that he was in a care home and not doing so well.
Over the six months that followed I kept telling myself to go and see him, that even though they said he may not recognise me, I could bring him back, sing him one of my songs, make him proud…Then last spring my phone rang and his number came up. When I heard his wife’s voice on the other end I knew what it meant as she would never have called otherwise and sure enough he had drawn his last breath.
After speaking to my sister and mum and making arrangements to go to the funeral I felt a bit strange. I didn’t cry (that came the day after – just once but enough) and felt oddly at peace. Around midnight I walked to the shop in our village to get a soft drink and sat on a bench next to a plot of land which seems quite wild but always has daffodils growing at spring time. I looked at the flowers and realised something about them – no -one has to look after them, they come ‘alive’ and then ‘die’ at roughly the same time every year.. The thing is they don’t actually die, they just go back into the ground and come up again when it’s time, demonstrating the circle of life right there before our very eyes if we’re willing to see it. I looked up to the sky and thought “For all I know you could be up there a part of you” and then looked to the flowers and thought that at least some of him would be going into the ground and that being the case wouldn’t he become a part of life all over again just in a different form? Either way if I choose, he will always be there to talk to, always by my side if I so desire, always in my mind if I choose, and isn’t the truth possibly that nothing ever really dies, rather it transforms?
When I got that call from his wife I had literally just got over an awful two week long illness and I felt the events were very much connected. ‘illness’ and ‘death’ really just are events and we choose how we perceive them, I chose to see the whole thing as a new start or chapter and the fact that they occurred at the time of year when the ‘death’ of winter is giving way to the ‘birth’ of spring only served to emphasise the feeling.
As Rumi wrote in ‘The Guest House’ – Even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably,he may be clearing you out for some new delight.
Amazingly (for me) last year I had grown my own daffodils on my window sill and when they started to wilt last summer my mum said to dig up the bulbs, put them in a plastic bag in a dark corner of a cupboard and come next year they could be re planted. A couple of weeks ago I remembered them, I knew I was late planting but thought I’d give it a go anyway. I dug out the bag and was astonished to see that they had already started to grow and were so strong that they had punched holes in the bag itself! I took the photo below of them before re planting in individual pots.
What a powerful metaphor which took me right back to that night a year ago and the sheer power of life. A living thing, even when in a corner of the coldest, darkest place and seemingly forgotten about, even then it still continues to grow – Its life force not diminished in the least. Yes, when brought out into the sunlight and nourished it will then flourish, but what work was done and what strength gained, what level of will was developed in that dark place?
Are living and dying merely two sides of the same coin? That coin being life. Do we have seasons in our life as the weather changes seasons? We shed our leaves, maybe part of us does ‘die’ so that new parts or undiscovered parts of us may come ‘alive’ Indeed is our very existence a season in an even greater existence?
I remember The Neptunes ‘Pharrell William’s group also being called N.E.R.D. – Nothing Ever Really Dies.