Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was professor of divinity at the University of Oxford and the canon of Christ Church in Oxford. He wrote “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”
It is hard to imagine writing this and feeling its truth. When we watch TV these days and see how many people have perished or are missing in Japan, we know that death is something, not nothing at all. But these words were written by Holland to comfort loved ones, who needed to hear that their departed loved ones were not really so far away from them, just in another ‘room’. And if it was possible to keep life as normal as possible, then it was possible not to miss the departed so much because they were really still with us. My thoughts tonight go out to the Japanese people. I cannot shake the images that I have seen on TV. I also saw that the film Hereafter was pulled from Japanese theaters. I am glad, because that film opens with a horrific tsunami. I have written about this film in another post. It’s hard not to ponder death, the meaning of death, the horror of death as Japan has experienced. Why do so many people have to die in this way? It is not possible to ignore the suffering, the tragedy, the sheer overwhelming feeling of helplessness. How does one help? Is it best to pray? Send money? Hope for the best? What is the best in the face of this kind of destruction? If the nuclear reactors experience meltdown, what then? Suddenly out of nowhere, tragedy strikes. That is how tragedy operates. Earthquake, tsunami, meltdown? Life-changing events. Lives changed forever. There but for the grace of God go we, an old expression that means that it could have been us given other circumstances but that God’s grace spared us. Why didn’t it spare the Japanese people? It’s hard to understand this. It’s hard to understand the immensity of this type of suffering. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed. But it’s important not to because we must be ready to help, at any time. I admire the soldiers and all the medical personnel who are helping in the search for survivors. They are heroes. I just hope they survive the trauma of what they see and deal with. And mostly I hope that the Japanese children find some sort of solace—it must be terrifying for them to see what is happening around them and not to understand it. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away for them. I wish that so intensely.