As I said in my last post, Tuesdays are the worst day of the week. The happy memories of the past weekend are beginning to fade and you’ve already shared all of your funny stories with friends. The next weekend is far away and the end-of-the-week excitement hasn’t really started to build. Tuesdays are dreary days where dreams are dreamt only to crash upon the stony shores of reality.
However, there are sometimes exceptions.
This particular Tuesday was quite grand for many, many reasons.
- I had a Cornish pasty.
- I visited Blenheim palace.
- I learned that the Marlborough Dukedom is the only Dukedom that can be passed down the female line.
- I stood in the room where Winston Churchill was born.
- I wandered through a room where King George III once slept. As I did so, I quietly muttered the preamble to the Declaration of Independence under my breath.
- I visited the church (Church of the Holy Trinity) where Shakespeare was baptized and buried. The oldest part of the church is 15 years older than the Magna Carta.
- I saw where Shakespeare was born.
- I did not cause any wrecks, traffic jams, or really big boo-boos to myself or others while driving.
- I listened to a good book while driving.
- I delighted in some delicious hot chocolate and Haribo Minion Gummies (not at the same time).
My favorite part of the day was an unplanned detour, which turned into another one of those hard to define experiences.** Upon leaving Blenheim Palace, I decided to deviate from my recently planned schedule and visit the grave of Winston Churchill. I had always assumed that Churchill was buried in Westminster Abbey in London. He’s not.
Sir Winston Churchill is buried in the graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in Bladon. He is buried with his wife and other family members. It is where he requested to be interred.
St. Martin’s Church is hard to find. It’s not well-marked. There is no parking lot. There are no clear signs. It’s an old, but still active church that is tucked away in the middle of a neighborhood. Most of the graves surrounding the church are old and so worn that it is almost impossible to read the words engraved upon them.
Churchill rests in the shadow of the church steeple/tower. His tomb is not elaborate. It is made of white marble and simply states the names of those buried there—Winston and Clementine Churchill.
I stood looking down at the marble for quite some time.
Despite my love of history, I am not a fan of museums. I prefer homes, buildings, and battlefields. I love standing where men and women of long ago stood. I close my eyes and imagine that the historical figures I have loved are just about to walk through the door.
Graves are different.
When visiting the graves of men and women I have loved and admired, I am not necessarily standing where they stood. They might never have been in that particular spot during their lifetime. Instead, I am standing where they ended up, where we will all end up. And yet, very rarely am I sad standing by the graves.
I might and often do cry, but rarely are the tears ones of sadness and grief.
They are tears of gratitude. That is the emotion that overwhelmed me today at Winston Churchill’s grave. That is the emotion I experience whenever I find myself at the grave of a much-admired, much-respected, and much-beloved individual’s grave.
Alan Bennett wrote, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
That’s not just the best part of reading. It’s the best part of studying history. It’s the best part when you realize that this incredible, crazy, horrifying, wonderful life isn’t meant to be lived alone. It’s the best part about realizing that our brief part in the ongoing saga of the human race isn’t meant to be lived in isolation from all the chapters that came before our own time.
Love him or hate him, the modern world would be a vastly different place without the blood, sweat, toil, and tears of the Last Lion of Britain. A husband, father, historian, officer, statesmen, prime minister, and artist, Churchill ran his race well. On this topic, he mused, “Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together, the journey has been enjoyable and well worth making – once.”
His well-lived journey ended in a quiet, almost forgotten churchyard a mere twenty-five minute walk from where he was born. A man who could have been buried next to the greatest kings and queens of his beloved country, chose instead to be buried next to the graves of his ancestors with a simple marble stone. In the end, it’s not the praise of men and kings that matter, it’s the people who made you who you are and stood beside you all the days of your life.
I walked away from St. Martin’s Church with a picture of the grave and a bookmark. The bookmark is simple. It has picture of Churchill and a quote, which reads. “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
We stand on the shoulders of giants. They have given us the tools. We must be willing to pick them up use them to make our little corners of the world a better place. We won’t finish the job, but we can help it along.
** I seem to be having more of these recently. Is it because I am adventuring or is it because I am paying more attention? Hmmm…