Beauty amidst suffering and despair often coexist: children laughing and playing in a war-torn area or a hand outstretched in kindness to a person in desperate need. The poem which has become part of our nation’s consciousness symbolises this well:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

(John McCrae)

It was whilst admiring a seemingly unsurpassable view across a lush green valley in the Limousin area of France two weeks ago that I learnt of the death of my business partner, Ashley Salter. I had barely arrived at the gîte I was staying in for a few days and had driven for hours across a country that seems to go on forever. Tired, I responded to a message on my mobile and was given the shocking news. Ashley had been diagnosed with a terminal illness only a few weeks earlier but we couldn’t have anticipated that he would have so little time left, and so with a beautiful view of rural France in front of me I mourned the loss of a true friend. We worked closely together. He had a skill set I do not possess and he was gracious enough to see in me abilities which he valued to form a strong team. He was supportive and encouraging in a manner so seldom seen in business environments driven by spreadsheets and pie-charts. He was keen to bring people on, to recognise their potential and then to stand by them. Slowly, I got to know him more than just a colleague but as a friend. The privilege was mine.

How does one end such a blog as this? I guess by returning to the theme of my last one – to those who served in the First World War – and leave the last words to Wilfrid Wilson Gibson who enlisted as a soldier in his poem “A Lament”:

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and rain?

A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings –
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?

(Published in Men who March to War, edited by I M Parsons 1965)

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