Last February, I went on a virtual pilgrimage with my friend Richard. My book, ‘We are Pilgrims’ was scheduled for publication in April and I had planned a whole series of walks for the year ahead. While the first national lock down had yet to be declared, Richard and I were unable to meet in person, not least because he was unwell. So we agreed to meet via Skype, using Google maps, as a way to tread a path together in real time.
Our chosen route was from Croyde Bay in Devon, but one of our conversational destinations was Robben Island. Richard’s working life took him around the world and is so often the case with travel, these journeys sometimes brought into sharp focus the cruelty of mankind, as well the beauty of the human spirit. This duality can be seen in the hideous working conditions of the tanneries in Fez and the exquisite craftsmanship of the ancient Madrasa just a few streets away; in the cruel servitude of European peasants, who remained in serfdom even as JS Bach penned his works of enduring genius; and not least in the incarceration of Nelson Mandela, and the profound wisdom of his actions as he guided South Africa through a peaceful transition to universal suffrage.
Almost exactly a year after I posted Virtually There, the account of our imagined walk, Richard quit this mortal coil. Earlier today, friends and family celebrated his life via a live link to his funeral. It was a magnificent event, with a great many able to attend virtually; our tears flowing freely in the privacy of our own homes. Richard was a great man, wise, thoughtful and with a great love of popular music. But perhaps his true gift was his ability to live life for what it is worth. Towards the end he freely expressed his appreciation that it had indeed been great; and surely this is the richest fortune of all – not only to live a good life, but to recognise it as such. The 19th century thinker and writer Henry David Thoreau expressed this same idea in his book ‘Walden’ in which he tells of his intent to live a purposeful existence “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Thoreau’s ideas touched on something universal and almost two centuries later, knowing he would soon die, Richard echoed his zest for life in the music he chose for his own funeral – advocating (courtesy of the Eagles) that we “take it to the limit one more time..”