Unforgotten Kings

I saw it for the first time last month. As the trees were gradually denuded of leaves, the hill crest was exposed to the observant eye. There it sat, a little stone tower. I circumnavigated it using the country lanes, but it was in a large field with no rights of way. I used binoculars to better observe it, but I resolved to get a closer look. This month, I took a slippery, muddy track to approach it directly. Climbing onto the old railway line, employing a convenient stick to prevent my slipping, I tramped up its hill above Salterforth. Briers and brambles stole my tweed cap a number of times, and a large owl, angry at having been disturbed, flew off screeching.

It was smaller than I expected, being less imposing close by than from afar. It was also rather modern, which may account for my puzzlement at never having previously noticed it. I’d assumed it to be some Victorian folly or dilapidated lime kiln. Rather, I think it a family memorial. Into its walls are written various forenames and one brief explanation – ‘Built by Alan King’. Some online research reveals this to be name of a local farming family, on whose land it presumably stands. The year 2017 also appears.

Pleased I had finally got close and identified its age, I wondered why someone would go to such trouble. The named people may still be alive, proudly advertised by a doting patriarch, or they may have passed away, sadly commemorated by grieving family. Most people content themselves with photos or headstones, yet here we have something akin to a family mausoleum, on the farm’s highest point, commanding views of every direction. It took someone time, or possibly just money, to construct it.

Deep down, we fear being forgotten. We name things after ourselves. We build monuments. We publish obituaries. Few of us will be remembered by more than friends or family, or enemies. Not many of us will be recalled in histories or taught in schools. Perhaps that is one of the features of hell we least consider: they who enter are forever forgotten. Forgiven sinners in heaven will not have their joy compromised by recalling the fate of the unforgiven in hell. Their memory, as well as their deeds and pride, will be remembered no more.

The repentant thief dying next to Jesus was an insignificant man. His name is not given to us for it was certainly unknown to they who recorded his conversation with Christ and possibly by the tired soldiers who executed him. Just another petty thief, thrown into another unmarked grave. For him, no memorial, no eulogy, no charitable trust fund to perpetuate his memory. Yet he appealed to the Victim next-door to remember him.

One day, perhaps in a hundred- or thousand- years’ time, Alan King’s tower will have fallen down, its inscribed names eroded. Doubtless, that lush green hill will be covered in concrete as a future generation of politician promises more homes. We will be just as forgotten and unrecalled as our ancient forbears. We therefore share that thief's prayer:

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom”.