John Rawlinson, the chaplain, was waiting at the door of the chapel.
Some friends were already inside, others, such as Suzanne, Tom and Andy were standing under the big tree, along the path to the church. It was raining lightly and the Churchill College fields were greener than ever. Those fields that saw many times Eduardo playing football with us.
Carmita and Antonio were staying in a College flat in front of the Chapel. Lola, Simon and I had just met them at the flat door and together we were walking along the path through the lawns to the mass for their son. I had Carmita holding my arm, while I was carrying the umbrella. She was very elegant, as many times I had seen her in Tenerife.
Antonio and Lola were behind us, and I think they too saw the welcoming faces of the many people that were waiting for us below the big tree. Some had sweet smiles, some were too sad to speak. In particular, I remember the intense expression on Andy’s face. He looked as though he would have liked to find words for Eduardo’s parents, words of consolation, but that none were coming to his lips. And then, would English words be enough? I think he was hoping that his presence would be more eloquent than a speech in any language. In fact, I felt that any and each one of us were thinking the same.
Words... words can be embarrassing, inadequate, insufficient and banal in front of evident tragedy and fatal irreversible events. But the words we were going to hear had a strong power of consolation.
Crossing the door brought us into the soft light of the big windows that illuminate the Chapel. I had never been inside the College Chapel before. The benches were arranged in two semi-circles at the left and right of the altar, opposite which a clear glass window was showing us the green of the lawns and the trees surrounding the building. In fact, they were part of the building, a bright velvet extension of it. The music of the organ was filling the air.
We were now walking with Carmita and Antonio towards the front benches opposite the entrance. Lola sat beside them so as to be able to translate into Spanish the main part of the ceremony. I sat behind with Cathie. Sitting in our semi-circle of benches were Max and Elena T. I smiled inside at that sight. Their presence and Cathie’s were confirming that being a student at IoA is much more than a temporary job, it is a permanent affiliation. IoA is a place where one always feels welcome, and here they are welcoming Eduardo, paying his last visit to them. A sadden sadness took me; but the presence of Lola, Simon, Daniel, Mike, Angeles, and on the opposite benches Suzanne, Tom, Andy, the family from Candelaria, Aleida, Arantza, Gianpaolo, Stavroula, Meg, Karl, Barbara, Arnaud and also the little Giorgio, staunch the creeping cry in my throat.
“It’s not a day for crying over death but for celebrating a life”, would be the message of the many readings we were going to listen to.
The service started and the priest lead us through it with the words of the poets and I found it very delicate that he chose to preach to us using human experiences of and thoughts on death “If I should die and leave you here awhile” ...“For my sake, turn again to life and smile” “Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine, And I perchance may therein comfort you.”. Edu’ s unfinished tasks? “comfort weaker hearts than thine”. Yes, but what a challenge you left us, Edu! Comforting weaker hearts with your effortless and splendid sense of humour...” Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice, But be the usual selves that I have known”... ”But life goes on, So sing as well.” And we sang... and what is happening to me?, why I am smiling? “stop smiling!” I thought. But I couldn’t help myself imagining what Eduardo would say hearing our tone-deaf singing of “Jerusalem”! “And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen? And did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?” I was sure that he was gently making fun of us and that with his half smile (so identical to his father’s!) he was surely pointing out that “You know, Jesus was a smart guy and I doubt that he would have ever swapped sunny Palestine for rainy England.” Yes, the weather wasn’t what he appreciated most of Cambridge.....”Querida Ale, Tienes razon, la muerte es algo tan dificil de aceptar”. But Eduardo was really talking to us now: the magic of writing that stores forever our voice. The priest was reading a letter that Edu wrote to Aleida, when her uncle died. In Tenerife I had read the original Spanish version and now I had the same feeling that Edu was addressing his words to me, to anyone who is puzzled by sudden death and cannot accept it; to anyone who is missing him. Today, he is the only one who, without any rhetoric, can talk about death and help us to face his absence. “Dear Ale, You are right. Death is something so difficult to accept and probably something that you never get to understand completely.”...” The same goes for suffering. I am so sorry that you have to go through all this.” I know Edu, you would not want to be, in any circumstance, a source of pain. You wouldn’t like to see yourself as a sorrowful memory in someone’s life, would you?. “I came to the conclusion that the only way to find a meaning in death is to think that those who died continue living in the people who loved them.” And addressing everybody but, I felt, especially his parents he urged: “Life is not only suffering, there is also happiness, and we all have the right to achieve it. Do not stop fighting for it, for yourself and for the people you love, but don’t fight against yourself.” That’s clear enough, I will try not to put you anymore in the uncomfortable position of being the cause of my crying. You can talk about death, you know what is like, but we have to reason on life. Our life, because your death is part of it and we should learn how to face it. And your life, because “the most beautiful aspects of the persons, the reasons they lived their life, the dreams they fought for, all these things, form our memory of them.”
But Cathie had not forgotten and from soon after your death she had always put the accent on your achievements, while I was still trying to understand your death. Without reading, but looking at us and speaking in a soft voice she was telling the story of “the Eduardo” she knew. In particular, his quest for happiness. Edu had identified what was important for him, what would make him happy. And this, everybody knows, can be extremely challenging. But he did not only understood the path he should have taken. He took it. He risked in order to try to be what he wanted to be. It can be very tiring to always feel “a foreigner”. Above all when you come from countries with a very high quality of life. That, as I have learnt very well, does not often mean “rich countries”. Edu felt a deep desire to go home and enjoy his work in the place where he could do it at his best. Finally he was able, after a long time, to enjoy the place where he was living. Cathie did not mention it, but I know that Edu was very grateful that she supported his choice to come back to Tenerife; and that she gave him the opportunity to visit Cambridge and to let him keep the international standard of his work. She instead underlined Edu’s determination to find happiness, despite the academic rules of “aiming for “the best institution”. She felt that Edu died having finally achieved what he had wanted and when he was doing what he wanted to do. This is a privilege, it’s true, and she wished that when we die the same can be said of us.
I finally felt good to be there, listening to all these words. But there were other people that really wanted to be with us, yet couldn’t, and I read the names of those who had asked me to pass their condolences to Edu’s parents. And I read Giuseppe’s message. And now I am relating Edu’s mass for them. But also for us who were there. And for all of us, Carmita and Antonio had words of gratitude. Those were read by Simon. He and Lola had stayed up until 3 o’clock the previous night to translate the letter from Spanish to English, and now found the heart to read it. I feel indebted to Simon for all that he gave during those days.
Carmita and Antonio’s letter also described “their son Eduardo”, remembering his fight to keep under control his anxiety. It hadn’t been mentioned before during the ceremony. And I knew why: Edu never allowed his psychological situation to define him. “Hi, I am Eduardo and I suffer from anxiety”... such a scene was simply impossible to imagine! (I can hear Edu laughing at the thought of it...) But he wasn’t hiding it: he was extremely respectful of other people’s problems, and he did not think that his own problem was worse than theirs. And this made him an excellent listener.
“In desperate hope I go and search for him
in all the corners of my room;
I find him not.”
Now father Rawlinson was reading Rabindranath Tagore. Death brings us to the Brink Of Eternity and it can be a filling or emptying experience. Tagore’s prayer asks for the former:
Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean,
plunge it into the deepest fullness.
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch
in the allness of the universe.
And if music is a deep ocean that envelopes us, where our pains can be borne away by the waves, Tagore’s prayer was immediately answered. Mike’s violin was carrying us away with sweetness but also with determination. Suite for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach. The music filled the little Chapel and Mike was speaking some of the most consoling words we had heard today.