Today is an interesting day here in New Zealand. It’s sad and unique and almost confusing for me. It is the state funeral of Sir Edmund Hillary . Sir Ed (often referred to as NZ’s favourite son) was the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest. In May 1953, he conquered the world’s highest mountain alongside Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. A pretty amazing feat.
It is that climb that made Sir Ed famous, but it was his ongoing philanthropic work in Nepal for which he was most proud. He devoted his life to helping the sherpa people improve their living conditions and quality of life. He became as much as part of their history as he is of ours.
He was a great man.
I am feeling conflicted about the way we are dealing with his death. He passed away on January 10th and has been on the news every day since. The media have served to make the sound of his name something that is almost beginning to irritate me. The top news story for the last week has been the build up and preparations for his funeral. There are huge screens erected in parks and special public transport has been arranged so that people can go and watch the funeral. It blows me away. Sir Ed was a humble man. It has been said on numerous occasions by those that were close to him that he would have hated all this fuss. While I accept that because Sir Ed was a public figure there is some expectation from people who want to pay respect to him, I struggle with the fact that this is turning into something of a circus.
Hillary has been lying in state for a couple of days and people have been queueing up to file past his closed coffin. I just don’t understand this behaviour. Looking at the closed coffin of a man you’ve never met? It is such a foreign concept to me. Similarly strange is the practice (which tends to happen more in other countries than it does here) of leaving flowers. Like when Lady Di died and people left flowers at the palace gate. There were so many of them that they all just stacked up and died and then created a huge amount of work to remove. What a strange tribute. It always strikes me as a bit ridiculous. Why not donate the $50 you spent on flowers to a charity that she set up?
So there’s the conflict. The behaviour seems so strange to me, yet I know that in the face of death people behave in the only way they know in order to comfort themselves. And who am I to judge that?
So this is my tribute to a great man. Farewell Sir Ed. For a few minutes there you really were King of the World. May you rest in peace.