"I suppose we're as well as can be these days” he said when I asked how they are doing. “Fed up with it all” he went on, “fed up with being fed up, but mornings like these help a great deal." A morning in Annaghdown.
Fed up with being fed up! It’s a good way of describing how we are feeling on the anniversary of the first lockdown. There’s a litany of things that covid-19 has done to us all and we could go naming them all out but “mornings like these” – that’s where I would like to go now. To think about the things that “help a great deal.”
I’m just back from John O’Brien’s funeral and the self-isolation that was required of me at home. In spite of the sorrow that is in me, everything fell into place as the graciousness of Divine Providence accompanied me all along the way, soothing my fears, softening that nameless guilt that can arrive from nowhere.
That nameless guilt! Sitting on the edge of my bed at home, just after waking, I was feeling guilty as though I had already done something wrong before the day had even begun and Neil Diamond’s ‘Play Me’ was singing in me, “…as though I’d done someone wrong somewhere but I don’t know where, don’t know where.”
It’s a primal kind of thing, existential. Body battling with soul, heart with mind. My physical heart protesting, laying me low, pain migrating through my body. The previous six weeks or so finally finding time to express themselves when managing is no longer necessary.
There’s no complaint about the self-isolation because it provided me with everything that helped a great deal. Being with John’s family in Fermoy was very special, a new connection formed. And being with my brother Pallottines and having time with friends at various stages of the journey – at a safe distance.
Mostly I am healed by my own family who came in relays to visit, passing each other in the front garden on their way in or out. Seeing each other for the first time since Christmas. The sheer delight of that, even if these were brief encounters.
And the children cycling together, running after each other on the road and into gardens like new-born lambs leaping and out of breath and red-faced with the excitement. My two youngest great-nephews Cole and Rian, cousins to each other, one a year old, the other almost two – they hardly know what another child looks like, having lived the whole year in the company of adults. Cole loves looking at videos of “the baby” on a phone screen but was somehow taken aback that the baby in reality is much bigger than the one on the screen. The joy of bringing them together, coaxing them to get used to each other, wanting them to become close as their parents are close. The pleasure of watching them move around my house, exploring the bits and pieces of family history that are scattered there.
Katie and Laura came most days. So utterly beautiful - and mannerly as we used to say. A mannerly child is a lovely thing to behold. Mannerly, dignified and gracious. And still they are free to be themselves, playing in my presence with the old Russian doll and marbles that belonged to their father years and years ago. They have grown so tall in my absence. They would sit drawing pictures for me, each doing a portrait of me and loving me so wholeheartedly in a way that is beyond words. But words too have their impact, the words they each wrote in my diary like a sacred scripture, holy words, life-giving words. So, in the presence of such loveliness grief takes its secondary place, finds a measure of solace and fears are overcome. Perfect love casts out all fear, as St. John tells us.
Had my first experience of a zoomed book launch. Claire Gilbert’s ‘Miles to Go Before I Sleep’ which was born out of weekly letters she wrote to a group of friends during two years of cancer treatment. I’m privileged to have been one of the recipients of those letters - it was kind of awesome to realize that I was in the company of Rowan Williams. Claire's letters inspired and challenged me. I am inspired by her, her courage and honesty. Privileged too to know her and Sean who have taken me to their hearts and into their home. Sean in particular makes me feel like I’m more special than I dare think. My copy of Claire’s book arrived a couple of days before I got back and already I know that it’s worth buying and reading. On my way from Galway to Dublin on the train on Sunday Sean sent me a link to the Emily Hourican’s review in the Irish Independent – a link which I have shared on facebook.
So, I am back home again in Hastings and it’s like I have to start living here again because John’s illness and death sucked me out of here to the extent that I have felt so disconnected, estranged. I went and came back many times over the past seven weeks like a nomad in the desert, like Israel going round in circles until they found the promised land. Like the Magi going home by a different way I have come back a different person. “All that I’ve loved is lost and found!” A central reference point to my life on earth has gone. A person to whom I referred, the standard by whom I judged myself is no longer here. He has gained his wings and flown!
This afternoon I received my second Pfizer vaccine. A blessing it is to walk in among the NHS staff who are so kind and efficient. Bathed in their goodness I emerge into the sunlight, listening to the distinctive tone of a Springtime evening, the particular shade of it, a smoky pink haze on the sea as I drive the descent from Ore village to Hastings.
The West is behind me again for another while. I watched it recede over the wing of an Airbus 330-300 on Sunday evening. Beautiful aircraft, on a beautiful sky and, like Patrick Kavanagh’s wild geese, I pray that every journey of sky or earth or sea be a flight that takes us home to God.
As I was writing this I was thinking about a song that Sean sang for me in their garden one evening, wondering when I might hear him sing it again and there it arrives, a recording on WhatsApp. A prayer heard and answered: