I haven’t been to many festivals, let alone Glastonbury, and I was a bit embarrassed to admit this to its creator, Michael Eavis, when he visited the University of Bath last week. He was coming to speak about the ‘Life and Purpose of the Festival’ but what he was really talking about, naturally, was his own life and purpose.
At 84, he has a lot of stories to tell and it was clear that as he looks back over his life, he sees a continuity between his farming and chapel-going ancestors and their values and his own life, however much they might not recognise their own fields in the last week of June. He said that his Methodist roots give him a desire to work for peace and that peace was the vision behind the first festival and that singing hymns (which he still turns up for most Sundays) gave him his love for music.
He came across as a benevolent, caring person, quick to laugh and genuinely interested in those around him. As I waited for him at the end of his talk, I was impressed by the way he turned the spotlight on each person who wanted to speak to him, whether it was a student who had sold him a pair of Skechers last summer, someone who’s sister worked on his farm or another student who’s family had a tipi business that supplied the festival. Each person seemed to bring him joy.
But the thing that struck me the most was the way he repeated, ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ as he told his story, whether it was a beautiful summer’s night back in the early days, or the way a team is working to make the festival plastic-free. The ability to look back at a life full of grace and wonder is something I guess we would all like at 84, even if our achievements are quite different.
I’ve just read a beautiful book about aging by Atul Gawande called ‘Being Mortal’. As a surgeon, he offers a critique of the systems we have put in place to lengthen life without working for the things that make life meaningful. How can we ensure that we and those we love live a good life right until the end? His approach is to ask people at the end of their lives what their ‘goals’ are and then to try to fit treatment around those goals, rather that fitting a patient into a medical machine. No matter what our current health is, I wonder if asking ourselves more often what we really want from our days would change the way we live?
This morning, reading Psalm 103, I was struck with the image of life being short, fading like a flower or wilting like grass. However, I also noticed that the writer highlights God’s compassion for us dust-dwellers, renewing our strength like an eagle in flight and forgiving and rescuing us when we need it. God is merciful and full of grace towards us through the ups and downs of life and that love lasts forever. Isn’t it wonderful?
(photos by Anna Barclay)