Below are a few lines that popped up one day in my e-mail, in the Way of the Internet. At the time they meant a tremendous lot to me; today I prefer the brevity of the quote I found in Provincetown, which I put into an earlier post.
Still, the words below are all over the Internet because they do comfort people. They’re in various forms and formats, so I’ve taken some liberty to cut them down. They’re part of a much longer sermon delivered by the Reverend Henry Scott Holland (1847–1918), canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, on May 15, 1910, at the funeral of King Edward VII. (Canon simply means that Rev. Scott Holland was staff clergy at St. Paul’s—I always thought it was an important title until I looked it up.)
These words weren’t the point of the sermon and they don’t even reflect Rev. Scott Holland’s entire theology, that day or ever. Apparently, the sermon was filed away and forgotten for 80 years until someone, probably thinking ahead to the Internet, resurrected it, so to speak, and now a few words of the sermon have a life in cyberspace.
As literature, Rev. Scott Holland’s text is not treated well, in my opinion: the sermon is referred to by at least two different titles, and word on the Internet street is that “Death is nothing at all” is the sermon's first sentence when in fact that sentence appears 533 words in. Online the “death is nothing at all” section is usually published in lines broken for a poem, which Rev. Scott Holland did not do. If you’d like to read the sermon, it’s here, in the best link I could find.
Rev. Scott Holland begins by describing the “cruel ambush” of death. It “may come to the very old as the fitting close of an honourable life. But how often it smites, without discrimination, as if it had no law!” Then may come a time of comfort for the bereaved, because, speaking for the deceased, he said:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room . . .
The old life that we loved so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
let it be spoken without an effort,
without the ghost of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
Actually, rereading these words, they are comforting.
But this connection will be hard to keep up, says Rev. Scott Holland, without a word, a sign, some tangible evidence, and “once again the old terror will come down upon us. . . . Our task is to deny either judgment [the terror or the comfort], but to combine both . . . if we recall the idea of growth, then we can afford to be in ignorance of what life’s ahead.”
For Rev. Scott Holland, and for me, the love of God secures for us this strength. “In the power of the spirit, we are passed from death to life,” he said. He was speaking to a group of believers; I know that for the most part, I’m not. Either way, his words appeal 100 years later because they reassure us that we’re not crazy, that it’s OK to keep our loved one’s spirit in our heart and mind, which we’re going to do anyway. As Susan Marsicano said in a comment to an earlier post, “I smile & tell his stories when timing is right, & share his art. Sometimes I say his name, as he remains very much part of my world.”