Last summer, I attended a primary school reunion, reuniting with people I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. It was a remarkable quantum leap, an act of re-fashioning, and an evening that has left a profound effect on me. Yet it is with tragedy that this memory is graced here.
My young existence is something I try hard to forget. My adult existence is so very different: university, tutoring, and a social circle formed after the millennium. It was chronically nerve-wracking to face an audience of that reviled past. But it was like lost friends – they were welcoming, understanding, and accepting. There was a sense of belonging that I did not expect, given how they must have remembered me.
To be there amongst it was a privilege. I sat with people who were assured, confident, and successful in their lives, all achieving great things. What’s more, they were generous enough as to hope for some great success story from me. It was strangely fulfilling to report that the success wasn’t there. The Keith they envisaged did not exist. If they hoped to champion me, instead they found me observing my champions.
Their sense of belonging is admirable. How long has life felt empty and isolating up north in the city where I grew up? Yet, I’ve spent more time up there than down south in 2011, and I’m looking for what has always been missing – a sense of life outside the study door at home.
Reaching out has always been difficult, though. I silently will people to extend their reach and then endeavour to accept it. I was more than happy to travel from London to the event last summer after being invited. This winter, despite all the time I’ve spent up north, I could not do the reaching when I was on the doorstep.
How tragic, then, that something to set alight the flame was the very sad passing of another of our classmates in a Cork plane crash last week, co-pilot Andrew Cantle. Sadly, he was not with us last summer, though of course I wish he had been.
Andrew Marvell wrote an unusual elegy for Lord Hastings in 1649 that lacks emotion. It reads like Marvell did not know the man, but perhaps wanted to know him better. In the consequent inability to connect more deeply than is fitting, he mourns the loss of his kind. Thus follows my eulogy for Andy. My reaction is gauged by the distance between us, but there was so much to admire.
He was an active RNLI volunteer: saving lives, always learning, bettering himself. Andy got me interested in long-distance running. That, I kept and developed, as he did his own skills. As someone endlessly fascinated by the low-flying planes passing overhead at Heathrow, I’m completely in awe of piloting. His wings of a different sort will take him some place wonderful.
Andy was one of the very few that I left primary school unafraid of. For my numerous failings as a child, he bore me not a drop of malice or animosity. It is such a terrible shame that someone so determined, selfless, and personable has been taken so early. And I hope there will be an opportunity for the group to reunite this year and toast him on his merry way to making the haven in the sky all the better before the rest of us arrive.
Laid to rest on 24th February 2011.