In recent days people have been coming out with their stories about their connections or experiences with Sir Edmund Hillary – people who went to school with him or climbed with him or built a school in Nepal with him or saw him at the rugby and got him to autograph a $5 note. Well, the only connection I have – and it’s both significant and insignificant – is that my middle name is Hilary. So there.
Which leads me to Parnell. After work yesterday I got the Link bus to Parnell, which conveniently stopped right outside the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where Sir Edmund’s body was lying in state.
I wasn’t necessarily planning on going inside, but even though I wouldn’t be visiting for religious reason, I was interested in the event as a socially and culturally significant one as a New Zealander. Though, when I initially saw the line of people snaking all the way down St Stephen’s Ave and then around the corner and down Brighton Road, I considered just going home.
But then I thought about it. I’d put up with hot sun and crowds and having sweaty man-backs in my face at the Big Day Out, so how could I not be up to doing something that many senior citizens – including ones with walking sticks – were doing? And besides, the line was moving reasonably fast. All excuses gone, I joined the queue.
Now, it was a hot, extremely humid summer evening, with very light rain from time to time. The heat was so intense that I began to wonder if perhaps I ought to have a plastic bottle of water with me in case I dehydrated so much that I failed to meet the eight-glasses-of-water-a-day limit. Because we all know what terrible, terrible things happen then.
But then, as if by magic, a lady appeared handing out bottles of water – organic water, even. (No, I don’t get how either.) The label on the bottle suggested it was endorsed by Sir Peter Blake, giving a nice dearly departed knights theme.
It took me about 40 minutes to make it into the cathedral. When I got inside I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, actually, I had earlier imagined something like what happened when Eva Peron died. You know, people wailing and fainting, tearing their clothes, queuing for days to see the coffin, taking their babies and their ill to be blessed.
But, well, it wasn’t like that. It was all rather Anglican. Silent and reverential. The coffin was surrounded by four naval seamen guarding it. Standing so still they looked like strange androids, waiting to be summoned into action at the cue of a Doctor Who villain.
I took some photos, but I was really conscious of actually experiencing the moment and not just viewing it all through my camera’s LED screen. I don’t I think I saw the man ahead of me take his camera away once – but maybe that’s how he does things.
When I was standing right in front of the coffin I stopped and thought and felt sadness. Then I had this weird sensation that, oh no, I was holding up the line and I should go, oh, sorry.
I signed the guestbook, bid my namesake farewell, and went out into the hot January night.