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Today's quote:

Friday, August 11, 2017

In memory of an old friend


* 28 October 1920
† 11 August 1995

Noel Butler at Wewak, Christmas 1975
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Noel's war service in the 42nd Battalion and his war grave at the Bundaberg Cemetery.


Basically your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. They are your friends for no particular reason.

The job they do, the family they have, the way they vote, the major achievements and blunders of their lives, their religious convictions or lack of them, are all somehow set off to one side when you meet.

If you are old friends, you know all those things about each other and a lot more besides, but they are beside the point. Even if you talk about them, they are beside the point. Stripped, humanly speaking, to the bare essentials, you are yourselves the point.

The usual distinctions of older-younger, richer-poorer, smarter-dumber, male-female even, cease to matter. You meet with a clean slate every time, and you meet on equal terms. Anything may come of it or nothing may. That doesn't matter either. Only the meeting matters.

Noel Butler was such a friend. Our love of chess and our love of New Guinea bridged all differences, including that of age. I knew Noel was older; how much older I never knew until after he had died as ours was not a 'mushy' friendship of Christmas cards and birthday wishes.

Our friendship spanned that seemingly ageless plateau of full adult life. Only towards the end did Noel's seniority of twenty-five years make him look like my father and me like his son, but I won't even get into any Freudian speculations of how his not having had a son and my not having been close to my father had anything to do with our friendship.

What I do regret is that, as he entered that brittle age of physical and mental decay, I was still too full of myself to be able to empathise with the vulnerability and loneliness of his last few years. But I'm catching up with him now because, while he's no longer growing old, I am, and much of his stoicism and acceptance of life has started to become my own.

If the only immortality we can hope for is to be remembered by our friends, then Noel has achieved it - at least, for as long as I'm around. Rest in Peace, my friend.