In his pomp

I went to a memorial service in London on Saturday. The person whose life was celebrated was the erstwhile vicar of the church I attended in the 1980s, and that’s where the service was held (and this is the post I set out to write).

We met to honour the memory of T, but the occasion provided a pretext for the gathering of the class of ’85, aka the congregation of that era, which consisted of both local Londoners and young professionals who lived in the area for varying lengths of time. We all knew T when he was around the age we have now reached. You might say he was then in his pomp (a sporting expression I have only just learned from my husband). So for a few hours on Saturday, I and my cohort of other 50-somethings experienced a time warp. Many of us had not been back to the church much in the intervening thirty years, and even if we had, the gradual scattering of the class of ’85 would have meant that we would not have found many of our contemporaries there. Only a few stayed in this this part of south east London. They (and we of the diaspora) gathered in a place we all knew, where we all used to meet as young adults, and looked at each other as we are now, but also looked for the people we used to know.

Most of us, I think, appeared remarkably unchanged: on the whole a little broader, a little greyer, but instantly recognisable. But this belied the varied and various life journeys we have all been on in the interim: the career highs and lows, the children born and raised, the relationships forged, sustained and broken, the losses faced, the worlds explored, the risks taken, the homes and communities created. An image of an uneven arc came to my mind: at one end, there was that point (around 1985) when all our lives coincided.  Then our trajectories fanned out and followed different courses (with occasional re-crossing of paths for some of us). Until Saturday, when for a very brief moment, our paths all crossed at a single point again.

There was something very poignant about it. I was thrilled to see people again – even those whom I had hardly thought about for years. Equally there was something very frustrating about it: there were so many people to greet (though how delightful it was to do so), that I could hear and repeat only the headlines with each person. We never got to the leading article, or the analysis.

Whilst I don’t want to go back to that time, I felt wistful.  I learned again the meaning of “nostalgia”: a strange sad/happy feeling and sense of confusion as the past and the present met. The setting and the people seemed so familiar, and yet now so other. I recalled the intensity of that time from the relative calmness of middle age. I can’t believe that chapter of my life lasted only nine years.

Back in 2015 (where, in the space of a week, both our girls are heading off to different universities, and so we start another chapter), I showed my family the order of service (see my previous post). My daughter (the one who hasn’t quite gone yet) observed that a certain sort of picture appears on the front of such publications: a smiling portrait of T in his (or her) pomp (though to be honest, I think I knew the priest and pastor we remembered on Saturday just after his most energetic and creative years. But the expression in his pomp has a pleasing Cockney resonance which is somehow very fitting).

Pause for thought then: if we, the class of ’85, knew him after his pomp, where are we on our own life trajectories now? Have we done our best work?  What can we make of the next thirty years?

And have the cover portraits for our memorial or funeral services already been taken?

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