Charles Handy visits a graveyard for the answer
It was another family supper conversation: what does success mean? My 14-year-old grandson had no doubt as to the answer: a lot of money to buy a lot of things – cars, motorbikes, perhaps even a yacht. My granddaughter thought likewise, and was already designing her dream house: fantastic bedroom for her, amazing bathroom and of course, a terrace overlooking the sea, all paid for by the money she would earn if she were successful.
“What about you, Grandpa?” asked my grandson.
I said, “Come with me, I want to see your grandmother’s grave…” What they didn’t know was when she died a kind friend had sent some snowdrops to plant on top of the grave. I wanted to see how they were doing. The grave is only 100 yards from our house, so we went there.
No snowdrops on the grave, but lots of them on other graves. They’d emigrated. I didn’t know snowdrops did that, but they were on other graves – friends of ours, neighbours and all over the graveyard, even over the hedge on the lane beside it.
On a whim, I said to myself, “I think these snowdrops are her friends.” My late wife loved people, loved photographing them, and had oodles of friends. She maintained constant touch with them. She would spend an hour on the phone to a friend, and I’d say to her, “What was that about?”
“Oh, just stuff,” she’d say, “keeping in touch.”
That was her “watering and fertilising” her friendships, keeping the snowdrops healthy. She’d say to me, “We’ve got nobody coming on Sunday – shall we ask the so-and-sos to lunch?” Well, I’d like them enough, so they’d come. And she would pour them my good wine with lots of love. And yes, some lived nearby, in the village, but some were far away, in all corners of the world – but she still kept in touch with them.
I said to my grandchildren, “It’s a lovely sight, isn’t it? There she lies, surrounded by the snowdrops. You see, for your granny, friends were so important – and she knew that, just like you had to keep flowers watered and fertilised, you had to look after your friends, and show them care and love. So now she’s surrounded by her friends, at her end.
“So please keep in touch with your friends in life and show them love. And I hope that when you die, you too will be surrounded by your snowdrops.”
My wife’s greatest compliment to me was that she once called me her best friend. I was chief snowdrop – what a great privilege. What success.
My wife led a well-lived, well-loved life. And I can’t think of anything more successful than that – more valuable than all the money in the world.
So from me, goodbye for now.