These are not 12 chairs facing us, they are ghosts. Which everyday chair indeed does not still resonate with the weight of those who have visited it? We leave not necessarily scars on the blank surface of the future, nor on the passage of the past, but we leave the record of that which was, however intangible. And how can there possibly be a certificate, an award, a plaque given for each moment of goodness, every accomplishment? Even so, many tangible rewards are allocated chiefly by competition, and the ‘also ran’, though they may have been hobbled with blisters and not had the advantage of the expensive shoes with the check mark saying ‘just do it’, what of them? It is one thing to be Chairman of The Board, but where would she be were the other chairs not in attendance? We human beings are made more by our connections, dependence, reliance, affection, care, consideration, and awareness of each other. So sayeth these Secular Sermons, indeed. (And you’d think that each and everybody would say ‘Amen’.)
“But I haven’t got a certificate to prove that I have achieved anything,” M’Lady Nancy confessed last night, in full mind of these 15 weighted-down chairs surrounding us, she who had amassed the museum like hoard of almost every conceivable scrap of paper and photograph of the history of her family. There are First and Second World War records, certificates, awards, letters, postcards from the 10 main men in her life, Sir Arthur, Douglas, Pat, twin brother Denys, and her husband Denys, with their sons, Ian and Nick; then there was Perry (who lived in the States so he and Nancy lived alternately between Oz and U.S.); after which was a man in his 90’s, called Boy. M’Lady has also every school certificate and card and memorabilia from back in the 50’s of her five children, all the way to the present. (In the twenty years of our correspondence she has keep every letter of mine, stored chronologically.) So too for the others, those silenced ghosts now alive and sitting staring at us, affirming our efforts to keep going. M’Lady has the bundles of letters and awards and certificates in folders and plastic wrap and appended by paper clips and under elastic. The 5 main women in her life have their accord too. Denise, her mother, who died when Nancy was two. Tante Angele, her mother’s younger sister, who subsequently married Nancy’s father (Sir Arthur) and took on the role of mother to the four children, Douglas (the offspring of another man, Rodin) , Patrick, Denys, and Nancy herself. Then there are Nancy’s daughters, Linda, Diana, and Fiona. And of all 15 persons only 3 are still alive! They are M’Lady herself, and her two daughters, Linda, and Fiona (all older than me). “Makes it all seem so staggering, on paper like that,” M’Lady says, as she looks around balefully at the stirring chairs, with their name tags. “But they live on,” I say. “We honour their lives, and we leave a record for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the future.”
A person leaves one’s mark. The planet feels each footstep. Tree roots register one’s passing. Ants are crushed beneath one’s feet. Birds are disturbed off their nests, scared away from their food. Fish dart away at shadows. Deer bolt. We eat. We breathe. We reproduce. It is at is. And we humans give each other accolades and awards and appear to depend so very much on the approbation of others. It is our joy and our curse. Perhaps deep down we know that our essential connection is made ‘more better’ by the accomplishments of any one of us. Nay, even more, our essential connection is made more-better by the dignity we accord even the most misfortunate of us; he who will not see his value to others. And in that light, we grant a certificate to such an one as M’Lady Nancy, that of gratefulness for the gift she has bestowed on all of us, Keeper of The Records. We are richer by it. We learn. Or the ghosts of each of our pasts may feel that we have not honoured their contribution, as we perpetuate mankind’s mistakes.