Magdalen Berns, RIP
Magdalen died today.
Three weeks ago, on 21st August, after months of wondering how she was, we finally heard that all hope was lost. That was the day we knew that most of us would never see her in the flesh again, we’d never hear another passionate, spontaneous oratory from her at a public meeting, never again get rat-arsed with her in the pub afterwards. We would never watch another of her extraordinary, brilliant, sometimes brutal and often hilarious videos except, perhaps, the last one – the one we were tantalisingly told was in the pipeline.
That day and the days that followed saw a deluge of grief and personal tributes expressed online.
I didn’t say much publicly because I had already responded, months earlier, to a request from someone close to her, for messages and memories to share with her. I took that opportunity to thank her again for the video she’d made about me which, in the days after the attack on me – two years ago today – at Speakers Corner had lifted my spirits and made me laugh, especially when she called me ‘elderly’. This description had attracted some criticism and, the first time I met Magdalen in person, she apologised for it. I told her then I’d thought it hilarious and – to be fair – when I was in my 30s, people in their 60s seemed pretty decrepit.
She was great fun that night. We’d been at a meeting organised by Venice Allan at the House of Commons. In the pub afterwards, we drank lots. Magdalen’s London accent became so thick I found it hard to understand her. She posed theatrically for photos.
I also told her in that final message – though I’m sure she didn’t need to be told – how she had enriched so many lives. Later I worried that my message had sounded too final, as if I thought she was already on her death-bed when I was still hoping with all my heart – as we all were – that she would make enough of a recovery to carry on for a while yet.
It was the internet that brought us our shero Magdalen, and, in the age of the internet, we didn’t need to keep vigil outside her home. We could come together on the web to fulfil our spiritual need – and by ‘spiritual’ I mean the human spirit: that combination of emotions, memory, imagination and sense of community that distinguishes us from other animals and drives us to want to come together at times of joy and at times of sadness and loss.
We wanted her to know how much she has meant to us, how much she has inspired us, how much we love her. We wanted her to know we will never forget her and that we will honour her memory forever. We can be thankful that we had that opportunity to let her know and she did know. The one bright spot for me over the past few weeks was hearing that she loved my retaliatory act against one of her detractors.
The tributes to her were many, heartfelt and beautiful. This video by PeachyYogurt is my favourite so far.
It is the experiences, the relationships and everything we strive to achieve that serve to give life meaning and purpose and it is through those experiences, relationships and achievements that we live on in the hearts and minds of others long after our death.
Magdalen will live on through her work as well as in the precious individual memories each of us has of her.
Goodnight, sister, and thank you.