On a bench by the UEA

The UEA is situated next to a lake that leads into the Broads.

I spend a great deal of time there before and after seminars and workshops, if I am not to be found in the grad bar, and you know that I have a seminar in the next half an hour, or something I plan to attend an hour or so after a seminar, then I’ll be down by the lake.

I’ve walked around it only a couple of times, and went off to explore the entirety of the path itself one day (and got lost, and it took me about an hour and a half to get back to the uni), so when I go down there I tend to be quite passive – for me, lakes are about watching, watching the mallards and the swans move on the water, the brief brakes of fish coming up to the surface, the movement of birds in the reeds – which is altogether different from the way I act in forests, or on beaches, where I enjoy walking, being active, seeing different parts.

There are numerous benches by this lake. The lake itself is a disturbed oval shape – longer in places – so there are two points where you can see down the whole of the lake without having to turn left or right. There is a bench placed on one of the corners/edges, so you can sit and look out over the entirety of the water. I’ve sat there so much, that I can see everything as if I were there now. Just in front of you as you sit down, on the left hand side of your vision, is a willow tree. It’s branches dangle out over the water, and mildly obscures the left side of the lake. In front there is a collection of reeds and then a main view of the lake, and then on the right are more trees (not sure what kind) that lead off around the lake and towards the university. It’s a basic description, but I can see it all in front of me now, the way the willows branches bend and touch at the water, the reeds that hide the small birds and ducks, and the solid trees on the right.

It’s a lovely spot to sit, drink tea, read, and watch things happen. It is very relaxing.

Nearby, there is a tree that has a number of cards stapled onto it. There are flowers, too, and recently Christmas decorations. When I pass this tree I know that either someone has died here, or that it was their favourite place and that they have died. That place, or that tree, is then commemorative – a tree of remembrance.

I tend to be a very curious person. I like to know things. But in all the time I have spent on this bench by the UEA next to this tree with the cards I have never gone up close to find out what had happened. I don’t know the name of the person it is commemorated too. I don’t know what happened to them, or whether anything did happen. I wonder if they drowned, or if something untoward had happened here, or that it was the place they were last seen. I have no idea.

There was a time I wanted to know, I was going to turn up to the spot the next day and have a look – try to get the persons name – and then see whether there was anything on the internet about it. When I got there I suddenly decided I didn’t want to do this. I realised that the whole thing was a mystery to me, and that, in it being a mystery it haunted me. I had no idea what had happened, or who had/might have died, but because I didn’t know I ‘mourned’, in a sense. I thought about it more than I would have had I looked up the details of the events. The person(s) involved I would probably have not known, the names would simply be names, and then the actions – though I could place them, give them a surrounding – would be only actions, I would treat the event like any event in the paper. I would feel something, and then that feeling would leave.

I don’t plan on ever knowing. I pass that tree every time I am at the UEA and have never looked, and will never look. What I do know is that they chose a nice spot, whether the person died here, or whether they drowned, or if it was their favourite place, it is a nice spot for commemoration, for remembering.

Now when I sit there I smile, knowing I am sharing that space with some ‘other’ – a person I don’t know, and the people around that person. They haunt me in a pleasant way, and I nod to them, remembering someone I never knew and will never know.

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