Left: My favourite photo of my father-in-law. The young man making him laugh is his younger grandson, Thomas.
In such times, the measure of a man is revealed. And Keith - dear Fil - kept his mischieviousness, his kindness and his constant willingness to help others. Keith was a man who did not speak of his kind deeds; he just got on and did what had to be done. Schooled at the General Botha Merchant Navy Academy in the 1950's, he was an old-fashioned man. The sea was always his haven, and his early training made him what he was: a disciplined and down-to-earth man. What mattered most to him were his sense of family, his duty and his impeccable integrity.
So many vignettes of Keith are flashing through my mind right now. One such memory still makes me laugh. One Sunday, during the usual phone call from us in Johannesburg to Fish Hoek in the Western Cape, Keith put the phone down before I'd spoken to Mother-in-Law. I phoned back and said, "Fil, how could you forget?" and, in a polite voice, he replied, "I'm sorry, you have the wrong number." I said, "Fil, it's me!". "No," he said, "there's no Phil here!"
There will be no more laughs to add to the store of our memory of Keith. But I take comfort from knowing he died on a blessed day: Maundy Thursday, a day on which Christians the world over commemorate the humility with which Christ washed the feet of his disciples. Then they strip bare the altars at which they worship, to prepare themselves spiritually for the death of Christ...and his coming resurrection.
Keith is at peace now; his pain and suffering are over. Although his empty place at the table will never be filled in this life, his humility, his influence and his legacy live on in his kind deeds and in our memories. And, as he waits beyond the veil separating this world from the next, his soul's resurrection is assured. We will meet again in another spring, another life.
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day
cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one,
even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires
lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow
your heart dreams of spring.
your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams,
for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death
is but the trembling of the shepherd
when he stands before the king
whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling,
that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die
but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing,
but to free the breath from its restless tides,
that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence
shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs,
then shall you truly dance.
From "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran