This week, we begin a series of posts on the theme of “What are you waiting for?” Our first offering, by Chris Yeomans, is a reflective review of the book, Waiting for the Last Bus” by Richard Holloway.
I have long been an admirer of Richard Holloway, who managed to talk himself out of his job, not only as Bishop of Edinburgh but as Head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, when he realised that he could no longer believe in what he was supposed to be preaching. A man who, in trying to find out whether ethics or spirituality could exist without a God, inevitably found himself at odds with the established church. In the preface to an earlier work ‘Looking in the Distance’ he says, “There is a rich and diverse range of human spiritualities in the world, and countless people follow them without reference to religion or any necessary sense of God. I have written this book for that great company because I now find myself within it.”
So I was, of course, more than pleased when he published this book about old age and death, being as how some of us are now drawing much closer to that period of our lives than hereunto.
It’s an alluring image, the idea of standing by the bus stop, waiting and wondering, knowing that there are no longer infinite opportunities yet to come. In the book, Holloway uses another similar image: that of getting on a train, used by a dying friend. “Her metaphor for death had been the train not the bus. She knew she’d have to board alone, but she wanted me there up to the last moment. ‘Make sure you buy a platform ticket,’ she warned me. (…). That’s where she wanted me, as close as I could get to her departure. I was there when the train drew in and she boarded.’
The book explores aspects of being old: how it might be good to be, what human values persist, what fears, myths and legends persist. But, mostly, it is memorable for those two images, which anodise death by making it seem like an ordinary lifetime event. Which of course it both is and isn’t. Ordinary because it will come to us all. Extraordinary because for each of us it will come only once. And as the years pass, we find ourselves inevitably pondering upon it more, and, if not exactly waiting, (which implies a suspension of activity), at least wondering.