Candid Candles

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination. I happily jump on the bandwagon along with fair-weather Jews, Hindus and Muslims alike at Christmas just as I embrace the extra holidays that the country’s assigned religions give us in the long and gloomy months however I would never consider myself to be God-Fearing.

Happily and lazily I languish in agnosticism without any fear of the afterlife or the consequences of my actions in relation to some pending judgement rather than the domino effect my actions have on my domestic or work life as with most people. Nevertheless, when it comes to death, I use religion as a tool.

I am not adept at offering sympathy, nor am I with dealing with grief or any emotion for that matter that I do not experience on a regular basis. I am a sensitive person, don’t get me wrong, but with emotions such as anger, grief and depression (as I am lucky enough to be a generally cheerful member of the human race), I rarely encounter them in my life.

And so, when you learn that the brother of a friend of yours has died very suddenly in a road traffic accident – the lack of words is wretched. Wretched! A life being snuffed out like a candle after only eighteen years of life in a tiny corner of England is a terrible thing. There is nothing that can fix a wound like that however the tiniest thought of hope or condolence may offer a smidgen of relief even if it is only a drop in the ocean. I do not like to think of a divine plan, a boy dying in a car crash is not part of ANY God’s plan as far as I am concerned nor do I believe that the unfathomable pain that his brother, my friend is experiencing, is some devised test. What I do believe in is the peace that religion has to offer around the notion of death and in loss. 

Making a “pilgrimage” to a place one associates with peace is subjective. It just so happens that in my instance, I seek out Cathedrals. As a child my parents dragged me around countless cathedrals but it is only now that I can truly appreciate them for being quiet and spiritual places that you can go to have a weep or to tentatively send a message of the heart through thoughts or dare I say it – prayers. When somebody is in pain or if somebody has slipped away from me, I make this pilgrimage and light a candle. It is easy to sound ostentatious when it comes to our lofty thoughts on greif and in the paraphenalia surrounding death but I resent any notion that my own “system” is in any way self-indulgent, nor do I believe that it makes anything “better”. It is a system to interperet as you like but it is a method I use to sooth the demons, to send an ephemeral message along the tin-can and string system that human beings have connecting minds to minds that neither religion nor science has yet to explain.

A candle has been lit, you aren’t alone.

This past weekend, I practised this exercise one more time and thought about my friend. I walked up the seemingly endless aisle towards a separate chapel of which there are numerous in this particular cathedral. Cathedrals always have such a fantastic smell of old Bibles, buffed floors, ancient wood and the misty perfume of generations of duffel coats and leather shoes come in for solace and solidarity alike. There is no way it can be bottled but there is no way it can be forgotten and the smell of a cathedral, just like the tapestries and windows and organ music, is what helps me to perform my little task without wasting any time or thought. It brings a tremendous calm upon you and yet a tremendous awakening onf conscience.

I deposited a little change in the tin and helped myself to a little blue-cased candle and lit is against one of its brothers. I watched the flame rise in earnest and as the crackle of parafin wax ignited and smoked I inhaled along with all the concentration my brain could summon for the person I had made my mission for. This ritual I have brings me out of my cynical shell and allows me to be elevated spiritually.

The guard comes down in a place such as a cathedral. This removes you from the office, from the restaurant waiting area, from the queue at Tescos. It cushions ever so slightly the awfulness of some things that life throws at you and allows you to connect to another, even if they don’t even realise it. I’m not saying it makes it better or dismisses you from the thought of it, I’m saying its better than nothing at all and that in itself is worth encouraging.

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