I was staying just outside Paris with my family on a short break. It was a peaceful quiet village in early spring. I was taking up my wife a morning coffee but as I approached the bedroom doorway I was unexpectedly reminded by the sight before me of this passage from Bede where one of King Edwin’s advisers counsels him on the new Christianity:
‘Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counselors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. (A.D. 627)’1
For a split second I saw my wife sat up in bed working on her computer and it seemed to me to define in an instant this passage from Bede. I had to paint the moment as soon as I could. Our lives are so short and we know nothing of before we we born or after we are gone. All we can do is our best in between as my wife was at this moment. This picture was my attempt to capture this notion as expressively as I was able. Did I succeed?
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- Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede, p129, Penguin Books, London, 1990.