Memorials and Old Friends
It was mid October and time to travel to Norwich, England to join in ninety-ninth memorial at the Norwich Cathedral where Edith Cavell is buried. I settled in at the Maids Head, an old hotel near the Cathedral that was once called The Cavell House. It felt like an old friend now. Just outside my window, I saw the spire of the Cathedral poking its pointy head above the red tiled roofs. Clothed in clouds, a full moon danced around it as the sky darkened. I’ve grown to love this magnificent Cathedral. I feel closer to Edith here. I’ve imagined her skipping down the stone walkways that surround the Cathedral and playing near the ancient stone rubble that was once a Roman wall. This church was built on a previous Norman church. It’s walls glisten with fist-sized chunks of grey flint dug from nearby quarries.
But this visit is different from the others. I am no longer the stranger from America. I’ve made friends here over the last few years. One is Nick Miller,
whom I met during my first visit in 2005. He is a sandy-haired tallish man with a trim build and a quick smile. He rarely stops moving. Last year, he, Julia a nurse, and I spent the winter months together editing my novel for the British audience. We haggled over the name of coal grates in Brussels and the use of the word “meandering walkways” in Norwich. He was the historian so he usually won. By winter’s end, we got the task done. It came out under a new publisher this October under the title of “Fatal Destiny: Edith Cavell WWI Nurse.”
Then there are the nurses who work in the Norwich hospital. They first invited me to join them for lunch in 2012. The collegial bonding of nurse to nurse continued as we sat down this year in a Japanese restaurant to catch up with other’s lives. One of the nurses, Dawn, has kept me informed all year long. Julia, the editor, mentioned that her daughter, Laura, was a theater student and could read my book for an audiotape. That is being done as I write and should be completed by January. I love her Norwich accent. It makes it sound as if Edith were telling her own story.
Having been in this ceremony last year, I felt more confident this year, but the memorial was no less reverent and meaningful. I felt unworthy to place the poppy wreath on Edith’s humble grave and thanked God for the privilege. I wore the WWII Red Cross cape again, only this time, I placed a myriad of pins on it – the Navy pin for my friend who is a Navy nurse, a WWI pin I bought in Flanders, a Cavell Nurses Trust pin, a poppy pin from given to me by Derek, the veteran who organized this ceremony and so on.
But this year brought another honor. I was also invited to join in the ceremony in London at Edith’s statue. When I first saw her statue in 2005, I could never have imagined that eight years later, I would be placing a poppy wreath there. At the time, I only dreamed of seeing the ceremony – never being a part of it. Although the Brits like their time-honored historical ceremonies to continue unchanged, they made an exception this year and allowed me to be the first American to join them on this day.
I looked up into Edith’s face as I placed the wreath at her feet and thanked her for her courage and sacrifice. It was an ethereal feeling. I felt transported to another day and time. What would she have thought then if she had known that a century later, she would still be making a difference in the lives of so many nurses. I thanked her for that. Having lived with her over the last eight years, she too, is now feeling like an old friend.