While her dad and I worked in the garden, fixing the wind-battered shed, Hollie sat at my desk, watching the fish in the aquarium and drawing me a picture. We had just been looking at some photos of her father at a similar age to her own five years and Hollie has begun to understand both the ageing process and that life is finite.
She was sad to hear that the big fish with the wiggly nose had passed away, crossing the rainbow bridge, falling foul of some unknown ailment from which I could not save him. He is not the first fish she has known me to lose and the idea of death now seems to hold no terrors for her. I hope that life and experience do not mar her simple acceptance… it makes a big difference to how you live your life.
One of my earliest memories is of a death-bed… a scene from another era, with a great grandmother, dressed in pristine white, breathing her last in the big four-poster and surrounded by a family that had gathered from all ends of the country to say farewell. I think that was what did it for me… there was no fear, no sanitised mortality, no hiding of death from a child, no grief beyond loving tears… it was just part of a natural process and I have never had any fear of death or the dead.
Hollie didn’t seem fazed by the idea either, as she filled the paper, edge to edge with colour. She drew me, laughing as she did so, and her dad as a small boy, placing us under a rainbow in a green garden with flowers. When she realised that her dad was the treasure at the end of the rainbow, she thought she ought to draw him a treasure chest.
The picture is full of light, colour and joy… even the fish are smiling… and I can’t help smiling back. I wish I could draw with such freedom; like it or not, adulthood constrains us to at least attempt to follow ‘the rules’ and conform to accepted standards. Children see the world with a clear and uncomplicated vision. We like to think we, the grown-ups, are their teachers. Sometimes, I am not sure that is the case at all.