e) Life, love and belonging
"Quiet now boy"
In memory of Peter Croome
(eulogy at the funeral of Peter Croome, Devonport, January 2002)
A great philosopher once wrote that what we cannot say we should feel in silence. When life is at its most beautiful or agonising there is no need for unnecessary words or actions. To experience this world at its deepest and fullest is to be moved to a voiceless awe.
This kind of profound respect for life came instinctively to my father, and was one of his greatest gifts to those around him.
When I was a child, "quiet now boy", spoken gently and firmly, was all dad needed to say to stop me yaffling and focus my attention on something wondrous: the agility of a hawk swooping on prey, the hundred shifting colours of a trout he’d helped me catch, Mt Roland lit crimson by the dawn sun, the taste of ripe raspberries just plucked and still warm, a lamb dying and growing cold even as we coddled and cradled it.
With my father as a guide I was permitted, through each of these silent moments, to glimpse something of the mystery of life. With him by my side I learnt that the important thing is not what we experience, but how we experience it.
There is much else I am grateful for learning from my father.
I learnt the value of patience as together we squatted still and silent on the banks of the Mersey waiting for what seemed like an eternity for a platypus to break the surface and reward us with a few moments of its beauty and playfulness.
I learnt the importance of concentration as together we built not a house, not a whole street, but an entire town out of matchsticks.
Our many games of chess were a lesson in respect and perseverance. When he taught me how to play the game dad promised that if I ever defeated him it would be by my abilities alone, that he would never play down to me. I lost more games than I care to remember, but when at last I won it meant more to both of us than we could say.
From dad I learnt that when we clear our heads and apply ourselves we could do anything. This was a lesson it took time for me to grasp. When I was a young I thought everyone’s dad designed and built back scratchers, tackle boxes, aquariums, swing sets, aviaries and cowsheds? Only later did it dawn on me that my father did these amazing things because he accepted no limits on his abilities, because he believed in himself. From that I took the hope that I too, with hard work and a sound plan, could overcome any obstacle.
Another of dad’s legacies to those around him was a healthy scepticism. Every week after Sunday school he took me aside to remind me that the world took much longer than seven days to make, that people don’t live in whales and that "miracle" is simply a word for what we don’t yet understand. "If there is a God", dad would say, "He gave us a mind so that we can reason and not so that we would be slaves to superstition and fear".
But as disdainful as dad was about organised religion he was still spiritual. His love of growing plants and rearing animals, his affinity with the sea, and his deep antagonism to the agricultural chemicals with which we poison our world and ourselves all showed how deeply he revered nature. He had a similar love for the past, for our origins as individuals and as a people, a love which sparked in me a life long passion for history. In my father both of these passions, for nature and for the past, spoke of something even deeper; a belief that while each of us has our own place and time, the world is something which goes far beyond us, which defies any attempt to command or control it and asks of us simply that we love and respect each other.
In the midst of this list of dad’s lessons well learnt I have to admit that the one thing dad could never teach me was how to kick a football. It’s a powerful argument against genetic inheritance that such a first class sportsman as my father produced a son who couldn’t drop punt if his life depended on it. It also says a lot for that first class sportsman that he never regretted his son’s lack of sporting talent and instead encouraged me in those things at which I do have some aptitude. "I’ll support you" he used to say, "in anything you do just as long as you are true to yourself and stand up for what you believe in."
Somewhere on the narrow road between Barrington and No-where-else there’s a spot where, as a tired and thirsty eight year old, I decided that I had had enough of that year’s Sheffield Area School Walkathon. Dad was walking with me and I whinged to him "that’s it, I can’t walk any more. Can you carry me?" He looked down and said gently but firmly, "never start what you can’t finish".
There have been many times I felt I could not go on. I doubted I could ever write these words or deliver them here today. But then I remember dad’s words, pick myself up and keep on going until I’ve finished.
Now that I’ve reached the end of this brief talk, I look back at what I’ve said and realise how inadequate all my words have been, how inadequate any words can be, in the face of death and in the expression of grief.
Why a father is taken from his family when that family loves him so dearly and he loves them so much in return is an awesome mystery that dad would never have painted over with needless words or deeds.
I can hear him, "quiet now boy".
This eulogy was given at the funeral of Peter Croome in January 2002.
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