A death in the square and the light which will never go out

By Jill Segger
November 29, 2017

There are times when the need to report and comment on large scale events can seem overwhelming. The general narrative of cruelty, violence, self-seeking and mendacity presses on the mind and spirit and in distorting the vision, makes us feel powerless.

So here, now, I want to step back a little to reflect on a life which is the antithesis of all that bears down upon us daily.

Two days ago, a neighbour a few doors around the square died. Ken (not his real name), was a skilled tradesman who had worked in the building industry for most of his life. He contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos and his death, though slow in coming, was inevitable.

We live on a small estate which is like many others around the country. It is part of that social stratum in which, for all it flaws, I feel generally comfortable – where the skilled working class meets and mingles with the lower middle class. There are occasional outbursts of middle-England indignation and Residents' Association pettiness, but on the whole, the people here are sensible and friendly.

Ken was both sensible and friendly. But he was more. He was that precious thing, a good neighbour. He would be out clearing snow in the winter, always with a particular care for the elderly or disabled. He cut his next-door neighbour's hedge without any fuss or angling for thanks: “well, I've got the trimmer out...” Every summer he mowed the grass of another neighbour who had a bad back and was always ready to fix small domestic malfunctions.

His was an unpolished but genuine kindness. When the man with whom I shared my life for 20 years and I decided to go our separate ways, Ken touched my arm and said simply “Oh mate, I'm sorry”. That meant more than many protestations that were offered with greater eloquence..

Ken made no great noise in the world. His life revolved round his garden and the local dog track. He looked after racing greyhounds for other owners and they could not have been in better or more responsible hands. He was a loving father and although he and his wife never made any pretence that their marriage was always happy, they stayed together and raised their two children to be good people. Some would have ignored or patronised him, They could not have been more out of tune.

Ken's death was as unassuming and honest as his life. He decided against treatment, knowing that it could not stem the relentless course of his disease. The last time I talked with him, his words, spoken without bitterness or fear, were characteristic: “I've lasted longer than they thought I would. I just hope it's quick when it comes.”

It was not. His last days were difficult despite the loving care of the hospice. He told his wife he was “ready to go”, and his going was a mercy. I never heard him speak of spiritual matters nor to express any sense that he might survive bodily death.

There are countless men and women like Ken. Everything about them is unspectacular to eyes and ears attuned to a status conscious culture. Their qualities are not those which can be measured by the accepted metrics of influence. Their innate goodness and kindness is a very local phenomenon but it is what makes our lives worthwhile. They are greater than all the world's tyrants, bullies, haters and self-publicists and their light will never go out.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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