A Weeping Woman, A Girl And A Three-Legged Dog

I’ve taken lately to spending some mornings upstairs in my local McDonald’s. It’s warmer up there, away from the constantly opening automatic door, and it’s a lot quieter, too. Most of the time I have the room to myself while I drink a coffee and read a book.

Yesterday morning, however, a woman came upstairs, placed her tray down before her on the table and took a seat. As she opened the sachet of milk to pour into her tea, something tore a sob from her. At that very moment she became aware of me, and held up a hand that quite clearly said I’m alright as I am, leave me be.

The gesture allowed no approach, so I simply nodded. She continued with her morning meal, her mind evidently focused on some inner conflict. I continued to read for a while, then finished a final chapter and rose to leave. As I put on my jacket I looked out of the nearby window, down onto my town outside, and saw a child-a young girl, with presumably her mother. Suddenly the girl snatched her hand away from the adult and hurried towards a man with a dog, ignoring the calls to come back.

The dog was one of those Staffordshire bull type dogs, nothing remarkable in that, but one of its front legs was missing. It gave a shuffle-hop as it moved, and the girl, obviously moved by the sight, crouched down and gave it a hug, wrapping her arms around it and holding it close to her chest. The man was speaking, perhaps telling the girl’s mother that the dog was friendly. The dog stood there, rapidly wagging its tail.

When I turned I saw that the woman who had been weeping was also watching this encounter, a thin smile upon her face. On making eye contact with me she quickly turned her attention back to her breakfast. Perhaps that girl’s act had moved her, gave her fresh insight and perspective. Who knows?

I left but kept thinking of that scenario: the woman and then the girl, the weeping and then the embrace.

We are all in the same boat here. Some are broken; some are ready to help others put the pieces back together again. But I think it has to be by consent-we have to be invited in.

I had a conversation once with a local priest.

“I thought there’d be more vegetarians within the church,” I’d said. Apart from myself, I knew of only one other.

“Why?”

“Well, I think that, both morally and spiritually, the strong have a responsibility towards the weak. Be they people or animals. Also, if, as we are told, that we are called to lead a life of compassion, then I don’t know how we can if we are eating the flesh of slaughtered animals.”

I’m no activist. And it is not my place to moralise, and far be it for me to preach to a clergyman! It was just a thought I’d had. He replied that maybe it was a deeper kind of faith that I practised.

But I was thinking beyond religious faith, more as a rule of thumb as we go about life. Of course faith should inform all areas of your life, not something you pick up again when you go through the church doors on a Sunday to set back down again on the way out.

We can attempt to live a compassionate life, but we can’t go around forcing compassion upon others. That woman was quite clear about what she needed and wanted at that time.

And I think she may have got some of it unexpectedly, from watching that little girl and the three-legged dog from a window in the local McDonald’s.

Pain Is Love

I woke this morning to the news that Debbie Reynolds had died, just one day after Carrie Fisher. The strain must have been just too much for the aged star. “She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” said her son, Todd Fisher. “She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie’, and then she was gone.”

Debbie wanting to be with her daughter is a nice thought, but what a time their family must be going through. On hearing the news, the lyrics of Ja Rule came to mind:

If pain is truly love,

for my family I die.

R.I.P both mother&daughter.

Welsh Odyssey #3

Descending once again the conical hill of Mwnt, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small church below me. Bone-White, sun-bleached, it contrasted sharply with the green field it was situated in. I made a bee line for it.

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Unable to resist old churches, and also old cemeteries, the Holy Cross Church ticked all the boxes: the building dated back to the 13th-14th Century, and traditionally a church had stood on this site since the age of the Celtic Saints in the 5th-7th Century. And it was an open, cool oasis in the heat of the day.

I had the church to myself, the only sound was the buzzing of a bluebottle trying to find its way back out into the light. Dust motes span in cobwebbed windows.

The dedication of the church to the Holy Cross is a sign of its antiquity, and just inside was a font from the 14th Century, verdigris-tinged, in need of a scrub. How many babies had been baptised here? From those first, blessed ripples, where did the tide of life take them? Did any of them lie in the cemetery outside these walls?

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Also of interest to history buffs like myself was a the remains of a 15th Century timber Rood-screen. The carved heads of what are probably the twelve apostles can still be made out, though the one that I studied looked more like a boxer with a flattened nose and cauliflower ear.

St.Rocky, perhaps?

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I sat for a little while, soaking up the atmosphere, thinking of time and wishing for whispers, when the wooden door behind me suddenly opened and my friend entered.

“I just knew that this is where you would be!”

My wife and kids were in the car, and it was time to head back to our caravan. And so I did, but pushed things by having a quick walk around the small, enclosed churchyard first. Luckily, (for my overheating family in the car), there were many graves but few headstones, and of course the old ones were written in Welsh. It seems the graves of the newly dead had conceded their epitaphs to the English tongue.

History; Natural history; this place was a wonder.

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In The Deep Night, An Extinguishing Flame

Our local church, on the night of Maundy Thursday, turns its chapel into the Garden Of Gethsemane, decking it out in many candles, surrounding a cross placed upon the chapel floor in front of the altar.

There is much emphasis on a night of waiting. Of watching.

I enjoy the meditative, reflective time spent in the softly illuminated darkness. I was there last night, thinking of family and friends who have passed before me.

There was another cross standing at the end of the candle-lit channel. For my previous generations, my most closest ancestors, the cross was the symbol of hope and strength as their inevitable end drew near.  They would have approached the great unknown holding on to that image. I pictured those once dear to me drawing near to it, reaching out to grasp its arms, before passing on beyond the marker. Imaginatively speaking.

A time of waiting. A time of preparing.

There were some family members whose passing was sudden and unheralded, but for the majority they knew that their time was approaching.

How do you prepare for that moment ?  How do you reach the point where the only control you have left is to let go?

I thought of my father. After his heart attack, he informed me that the doctor had told him he could have another one “like that” with a click of his fingers. How did he cope with the thought of that time bomb ticking away inside of him? He died from the detonation a few days later.

Some of my family have approached that cross with a calmness and strength that I can only hope to emulate when my time comes. There was one person who particurlarly came to mind, though.

His passing was quite recent. He returned home to die, his life ebbing away due to the cancer that ravaged him. As the moment inched closer, while his awareness of it remained, he muttered: “I’m frightened.”

His wife, Alice, said to him gently “You’ve no reason to be frightened. Say hello to your father and to Stephen” (his brother) “for me.”  With that he succumbed, sent over by those strong words of faith.

In the deep of the night, gazing silently upon those flickering flames, I thought to myself that, when the time comes, we could all do with an Alice standing alongside us, whispering into our ear.

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On This Day: My Mother The Cow

On this day is remembered the Irish saint Máedóc of Ferns, born around 558. According to Irish legends, when a boat could not be found to take the infant Aedan (Máedóc’s original name), across the lake where St.Kilian waited to baptise him, the boy was floated to shore on a slab of stone.

The font at St Mogue’s in Bawnboy is said to be made from part of the stone. Will come in handy if ever the churchyard floods.

He studied at Clonard Abbey, the famed school of St.Finnian. When many people came to seek him out, desiring to be his disciples, he fled to Wales to study under none other than St.David. These saints do seem rather clicky, don’t they?

Along with St.Cadoc (another name drop there) Máedóc was said to have exterminated an army of Saxons or Irishmen in a narrow valley by rolling stones upon them.

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The monastic site at Clonmore is in ruins. Here some cross fragments and carved stones have been collected together.

He was noted for his benevolence and hospitality (though perhaps not to Saxons or Irishmen). At one point, a man pushed him into a lake to see whether he would lose his temper, then, when he meekly got back out of the lake the tormentor confessed his guilt and apologised.

A humble, forgiving soul, eh? Don’t bet on it:

He was well known for his curses. Once, when he was grinding flour, a local man begged for some meal. After being given some, the man disguised himself as a blind man and returned to beg for more. Annoyed, Máedóc cursed him that the generations of his descendants would never lack for a blind member. Sins of the father and all that.

When a notable figure slew his own father-in-law, he attempted to accommodate the saint, only for him to curse that the man’s right hand would wither to a stump. When the man begged for a penance, Máedóc directed him to pray for forgiveness at the tomb of Brandubh in Ferns. The man did so, and a spectral voice from the crypt forgave him.

Miraculous. Marvellous. He still lost his hand though.

Many more stories abound concerning this seventh century figure. Once, fetching ale for his fellow monks, old butter fingers broke a jug. Making the sign of the cross over the broken shards, the jug repaired itself and he continued along the way. As a former teenage glass collector, I can tell you there is definitely a market for this kind of trick.

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Stained glass window of the Saint in Enniscorthy Cathedral.

I like the story about the time wolves devoured one of the calves at the monastery, the mother cow being inconsolable. Máedóc blessed the head of his cook and told him to offer it to the heifer. The cow licked him with its great, rough tongue, and from that moment ‘loved him like a calf’. Oh, how that cook must have leapt for joy whenever he heard it lowing mournfully in the barn. Think I’d have preferred a withered stump.

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One thing I love about the tales of these Celtic monks is their affinity with, and connection to, the natural world. Perhaps there is a moulding here of both the native pagan and early Christian faiths, back in the melting pot of these islands. There is a nice tale of  Máedóc reading one day in Connaught, and a hunted stag in desperation took refuge with him. By a miracle, the saint rendered the stag invisible, and so the pursuing hounds ran off.

In art the figure of a stag remains this saint’s emblem. A visible one, of course. An invisible emblem wouldn’t be much of an emblem, now, would it?

Aeddan, forever known as Máedóc, died on this day in 632, (or in an alternative account 626) and is buried on Lough Melvin’s shore in County Leitrim. Give him a thought before you turn out the light tonight.