I went to a funeral today. The mother of a good friend has passed away after a long illness. The atmosphere of the outdoors service was appropriately somber. The undertaker wore his professional expression of grief. In front of the sobbing family he began to speak about life as a circle in which it's the journey and not the destination that matters. About how nothing is forever and how the old must give way to the new. About the cycle of death and rebirth. There were other clichéd references but I don't remember them all. Any way, you get the idea. I suspect that the same words were used for every funeral. For a moment it appeared to me that I was hearing a speech not about I person I knew, that I was hearing a eulogy written not for people but for .... trees. You know - it all started many moons ago with a fragile sapling, the time moved on and before you know, it was a season of flowering in full glorious bloom, then the time to bear fruit. And so it went one season after another until one day, the thickening bark, the falling leaves, it was a turn of the new ahead of the old, another season will come, and so on and so on. But people are not trees.
The botanists tell us that the distribution of foliage on a plant is not random but precisely arranged. And it's not just about getting the most sun - the leaves also serve to shade over the other plants, to starve them of light. So next time you find a spot of pretty vegetation in you local park - remember that what you are seeing is the battle for survival. And in this battle it's every tree for itself. There are people who live lives just like that. Spending all their time pushing others out of the way. But we are human beings and can choose to live not like trees. To be the opposite of trees. Nurturing and supporting others. Children come to mind of course. But also friends, co-workers, pupils, neighbors, everyone we meet on the journey. And in the process our own physical selves become inevitably diminished. Every parent when prompted will readily narrate the story of things unfulfilled - hobbies put on hold, places never visited. All for the sake of the children. After all when it comes to parenting, sacrifice is not an optional extra. It's not even part of the job. It IS the job. And yet as we become physically diminished, we acquire something else. Something intangible and infinitely more precious. It's a kind of immortality for a small part of our selves - the part we gift away to others. It's often said that life is a journey not a destination, and in a way that is true of course. But after a long arduous journey wouldn't it be nice to arrive at some place that is special and worthwhile? Or better still to know that the journey didn't end, that others are setting off with your precious cargo on board even as your own travel time runs out. When we touch lives of other, there is a part of us that travels on with them - maybe that is the ultimate consolation. I find this view, this picture of a journey that need not ever end a far more comforting image then anything that a professional eulogy can offer.