Last summer, I enjoyed the rare fortune of a primary school reunion, fifteen years after leaving. Most of the ten of us who returned to share the evening I had not seen since the age of eleven. It was a remarkable quantum leap – an act of re-self-fashioning – and an evening that has left a profound effect on me ever since. And yet it is with sorrow and tragedy that this memory is graced here.
My young existence is something I am always trying hard to forget. My current life derives from my adult existence: university, tutoring, and a social circle formed after the millennium. The nerves at having to face an audience of that reviled past were chronic. But the company – the lost friends – 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 true privilege. I sat amongst 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 was none. 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? (Indeed, one might wonder where an interest in privacy and interiority comes from?) It remains hard: to know me properly is to know why I am still an outsider. But then, perhaps I should know better than to expect more.
I’ve spent more time up North 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 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 the 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 clearly did his own skills. As someone who is forever fascinated (if a little intimidated) by low-flying planes passing overhead, piloting is to be awed. 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 innumerable 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.