This website has the unusual name talkingdust.net for more than one reason – aren’t most things multifactorial?
A fellow local historian once jokingly advised me, ‘don’t spend too much time searching through dusty old deeds and records’. This caused me to reflect on the amount of time I’d been devoting to this new found enthusiasm – history can be endlessly fascinating and historical research strangely addictive. However, wise as his words might have been, I’d found that sifting through these ‘dusty old deeds’ was time well spent. It was teaching me lessons that I needed to hear. There were lives to learn from that set me thinking. What were these lives all about/for? What was my life about/for in comparison? What did I want it to be about and to be spent on? What could/should I do about that? The dust was talking and I was ready to listen.
The first dusty record that spoke to me, towards the start of my research in the summer of 2013, was The Newmarket Journal reports on the death of Clement Frederick Gray in 1943. Reading about his life and example I felt woefully inadequate yet truly inspired simultaneously. It reminded me of why, as a young teenager, I had set my heart on pursuing a career in medicine in the first place. This spurred me on trying to serve as a GP for a few more years, despite the frustrating climate in the NHS and medical profession of my age. When The Newmarket Journal wanted to do an article on this research my first thought was, ‘now is my chance to allow this man’s life and example to shine again, perhaps for others to reflect on and be inspired by too’. I was delighted when on 12th December 2013 ‘The Journal’ repeated the words they’d written about him in 1943, “Of him, it can truly be said that ‘he went about doing good,’ and his life and example were potent influences for good.” For more on his story see the page on Clement Frederick Gray.
However, in October 2013 another Newmarket medic had caught my attention too. I’d been digging around in the 18th century when I stumbled across some very vocal ‘talking dust’ from the century before – a thought provoking message written in colourful 17th century language. The dust was definitely talking, this time resonating with and encouraging me in another longerstanding project of mine (see the p.s. below). Whilst looking for some 18th century memorials at St Mary’s church I’d come across the 17th century ‘tomhe’ of Francis Greene, apothecary of Newmarket, with a stark yet profound message echoing across the centuries – rather different from that of Clement Gray, yet hewn from the same rock. Little did Francis know that his message would end up on the internet over three centuries later! A tweak of his own words led to the name for this website.
His tomb refers to us passers by as ‘walking dust’, a reference to the fact that ultimately our bodies are made from the dust of the earth, where eventually they will return – dust to dust. He might bluntly call us ‘walking dust’, yet it seemed to me that he was ‘talking dust’ speaking his message out from the grave. One of the most sobering things about history is that it brings our own mortality into sharp focus. It reminds us that relatively speaking eternity is infinitely longer and we would do well to reflect on that fact and respond appropriately. In Francis Greene’s own words, ‘Stay mortal stay, depart not from this tomhe before thou hast considered well thy doome… prepare thou walking dust – take home this line, the grave that next is open may be thine’!
Sobering words indeed, especially coming from a medic (we always lose in the end, as most medics on this website and those they treated prove). Perhaps this little prescription from Francis, etched in stone, might turn out to be his most efficacious from an eternal perspective – a prescription for our souls, slightly bitter to the taste, yet when rightly taken an apothecary’s elixir of eternal life. It’s formulated not so much to depress us, but to lift our thoughts to God’s eternal Kingdom, perhaps carrying our souls where the eye of faith then sees. It’s Jesus’ message, that totipotent physician, who yes ‘went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38) but whose main message was, ‘This Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come’ (Matthew 24:14, WEB).
Obviously Francis Greene’s message is in very blunt 17th century language that requires some cultural translation. For that reason I’ve quoted only part of it here – the middle is even more blunt (in fact pointed!) and in need of explanation. Regarding his message being rightly taken, and for the full version of it, see the page on Francis Greene.
However, I would encourage any readers of this website, aside from simply being fascinated by the subject matter, to reflect on the lives outlined on it. Reflect on and apply to your own lives the lessons of history – a dusty yet surprisingly potent and therapeutic matter.
p.s. this website went live on 18th October 2019, finishing preparing it for launch being my first job following retirement from clinical practice in 2017, having moved on early in an attempt to balance my life as a whole. It certainly seems to form an appropriate bridge. Fine tuning it will be a work in progress. Now however, having earnt my living hoping to ‘serve the sick’ (or at least having found some satisfaction trying to fulfil that intended purpose – despite the frustrations mentioned above), I hope to spend any residual time and resources that God has given me formulating some prescriptions of more eternal significance, pursuing my longstanding main interest, which is looking at the use of Holy Scripture as medicine for the soul (something I need regular doses of myself), and encouraging others in the same. Time will soon roll on, and my earthly body turn back to dust, but then I hope to discuss my little efforts along those lines with Francis Greene and others like him in eternity. That will be fascinating and even more interesting!
p.p.s. when I started preparing this website in 2014 (and having already written this page and the p.s. above, minus exact dates) I was unsure whether it was the right thing for me to be doing. I decided to go to St Mary’s church in Newmarket one Sunday morning, mainly to find a particular memorial that I’d heard was there and sounded interesting (about someone who’d died whilst preaching), but also using the opportunity prayerfully to seek guidance – see what happened by clicking here. So here is talkingdust.net!