‘In Memory of Beautiful Bett’, said the small plaque on the back of the wooden bench. Surrounded by flowers in bloom, it stood in a corner of a picturesque park in a quintessentially English town in the bosom of the Midlands.
The words were simple, yet they touched my heart.
Who was she, I wondered. Why she loved this park so much and who was the person who dedicated the bench to her. So many questions aiming to uncover the story of someone who once had lived and loved, and was loved. I don’t think I will ever have the answers, the details, the building blocks of what makes a story complete. I don’t think I will ever find out where she was born, how she lived her life and who was the person next to her.
Yet, in spite of this, the memory of Beautiful Bett has remained with me weeks after that fleeting moment when I came across her bench in that little park in full bloom.
The English, quaint as they are, have a wonderful way to commemorate those who have passed through. They dedicate a bench to the person whom they had loved at a spot where he or she liked to spend some time every now and then.
Walk through a park, alongside a canal or even up a cliff and you are bound to come across a wooden bench with a commemorative plaque attached to it.
A few, carefully chosen words tell the story of the person whom they have lost. Sometimes the years of their birth and death would be mentioned. A passion would be described.
Like in the case of his lovely bench I spotted at the Isle of Wight Zoo. It was dedicated to a lady who had been ‘Tiger Mad’. Seeing the bench, reading its plaque, it brought a smile to my face. We had just walked past the cages of the tigers who live in the zoo, admiring their mighty bodies and playful cat-like movements. The bench invited you to sit down and join, albeit beyond the constraints of time and space, someone who had also loved seeing and admiring the tigers.
Sometimes though, the stories the commemorative benches tell are sad. Like this bench we walked past on the shores of the river Severn. Its plaque marked a tragic event. At that exact spot a lady had fallen and drowned in the river.
In all cases though the benches are there to celebrate a life, a person who was dearly loved and is now deeply missed. A bench, with its unspoken invitation to sit down in order to relax and appreciate the view, becomes the perfect way to honour their memory.
You can spend a few minutes seeing what they used to see and admiring what they used to love. And even though you will never know more about them than the carefully selected words on the plaque have chosen to reveal, for a fleeting instant you will connect with them on a perfectly human level and know more about them than it was ever possible.
Today, a few weeks after I walked past the bench of Beautiful Bett, I read the story of a song I quite like. I have always thought of it as one of those songs which only become popular among certain groups of people but never achieve mass popularity. I was quite surprised to read then that in fact Train’s Drops of Jupiter had been one of the most played on radio songs of the past decade.
The song was written by the lead singer of the band in memory of his mother who had died after a struggle with cancer the previous year. The song is about an idea that no-one ever really leaves us. That they are here, just different or as the song puts it: they are ‘back in the atmosphere’.
Life’s worth living.