Weekly Reflection 23rd – 29th August 2009
Posted on: Friday 28th August 2009
One Friday afternoon, twenty years ago, I returned home from Sainsbury’s to find the bath had overflowed. Water had dripped right through the house, through three floors, eventually ending up on my piano, whereon I had left a pile of music manuscript, the score I was writing for a theatre show that was due to premiere in a fortnight. It was ruined, the ink had run, the pages had stuck together, and I realised I was going to have to do the whole thing again – hours and hours of work. So I cancelled my arrangements for the weekend and went to my parents’ house to write the score out again. I was particularly annoyed because I’d been invited to a party on the Saturday night to celebrate the birthday of an extravagant friend, and it promised to be a spectacular occasion. I arrived at my parents’ in the country and dutifully set to work. On Sunday morning I put on the television to catch the lunchtime news and saw a friend of mine, normally impeccably turned out, looking bedraggled and shocked, interviewed by journalists. He’d gone to the party I’d missed: on board the Marchioness.
Fifty-one people died in the disaster, and the weeks following I remember as kind of blur, of sitting with people in shock, who couldn’t stop talking, of having to track down a friend, travelling in Thailand, to tell her that her flatmate had drowned, and of weeks and weeks of funerals. I recalled those funerals again on Thursday, when we met at Southwark Cathedral for a special Choral Evensong to mark the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. The names of the dead were read out, and looking round the congregation, half recognising people I hadn’t seen for years, I couldn’t stop wondering how those who had died, most of them under thirty, would have turned out. It was a sociable, cheerful, energetic scene twenty years ago, and despite having grown heavier and greyer, the congregation seemed not to have lost that brio. It felt almost like a college reunion until the reading out of the names, when it became obvious that for some the grief was still overwhelming.
Most of them, then and now, have no connection to the Church, and I wondered if they found the prayers and readings and music mystifying. What could be more mystifying than preaching God’s benevolence to a congregation who had lost their children, their brothers and sisters, their lovers and friends just as they were starting out in life? I talked to someone afterwards, a survivor of the accident who is not religious at all, and asked him what he’d made of it. He said he had been profoundly moved. What by? By hearing words and music, he said, that were here before we were here and will be here after we’re gone. It made me think even this can be transcended, and that gives me peace.
Fr Richard Coles, Curate.