Poetry is when
the language of the soul
the common tongue.
©Andrew James Murray
I first encountered John O’Donohue when I picked up a copy of his book Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. (Anam Cara is Gaelic for ‘soul friend’.) It is a beautifully written book that I have returned to time and again. Described as a ‘poetic priest with the soul of a pagan,’ O’Donohue died unexpectedly in his sleep, at the age of 52.
Not so long ago I bought a copy of another of his books, Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong. Although I haven’t read it yet, I recently came across an excerpt from it which I have shared below. As we get older, the number of family and friends that we lose increases. It is inevitable, for that is the natural order of things, the price of life. And, for me personally as an avowed creature of nostalgia, my memories are precious and form a connection between the person I was and the person I am. The people who were, and the people who are.
As we journey onwards in life, more and more spaces within us fill with absence. We begin to have more and more friends among the dead. Every person suffers the absence of their past. It is utterly astonishing how the force and fiber of each day unravel into the vacant air of yesterday. You look behind you and you see nothing of your days here. Our vanished days increase our experience of absence. Yet our past does not deconstruct as if it never was. Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. Memory rescues experience from total disappearance. The kingdom of memory is full of the ruins of presence. It is astonishing how faithful experience actually is; how it never vanishes completely. Experience leaves deep traces in us. It is surprising that years after something has happened to you the needle of thought can hit some groove in the mind and the music of a long vanished event can rise in your soul as fresh and vital as the evening it happened.
. . . between my wife and I.
Me:”I’ve just picked up a book about Julian of Norwich.”
Me:”You know who Julian was?”
Jen:”Of course I do.”
Jen:”A bloke from years ago. See-I surprise you don’t I? I might not know what he did, but I know he lived years ago. So there!”
Me:”Julian of Norwich was a woman.”
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.
“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.
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.