19. A Hopeless Dawn

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Tate: “A Hopeless Dawn”, Frank Bramley, 1888

The artist has related the story in details,
which are plainly evident:

guttered candles have been burning through the night;
a table lies set for an evening meal;
a storm rages on the sea outside;
a Bible lies open on a stool;

and a distraught young woman weeps
into the lap of matronly care:

A husband has not returned home from the sea.

And it is … A Hopeless Dawn.

Whenever confronted by the news of death,
I have always been obliged to stop … and consider:

If I was to die tonight,
what record would I leave of myself
in the minds of those who have – however briefly –
encountered me … in their lives?

What testimony have I left
in the minds of others?

Was my life spent living to be entertained:
always seeking the next amusement …
the next technological toy … the next ‘party’ ?

Would people remember me as someone
who lived to gratify my own vanity;
who dominated others to feed my ambition; or
who walked away the moment they challenged
my conscience ?

Or was there more to me than that?

If I am hated … am I hated
because I am a moral man who infuriatingly
pricked the consciences of others
by espousing humility, moderation in all things,
moral fortitude, and self restraint?

Were I to die tonight, what is the consistent record
of my words, my actions, my philosophy in life?

What use have I made of the time
that has been given me in this world?

This haunting painting has fascinated me
– captivated me – since I was a little boy,
and its image has been applied to my life
every single day.

Rather than “celebrate life” with the partying world,
death is, for me, a time for earnest reflection:

Was I an example of moral integrity
to someone who is now gone?

There would, I believe, be
a lot less “celebrating”

if people opened up their consciences
and took a good look at themselves.

Which is why, I suspect,
such a thing is rarely, if ever, done.

Were I to die tonight,
what example have I left
to those people who encountered me
during the course of my life ?

P Livingstone

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