Life in a goldfish bowl

 

Living life in a goldfish bowl you are contained in a very small space. This can be a good thing as you can feel protected from influences outside the bowl. As a metaphor for life though, it’s a wakeup call (for me), as life in the goldfish bowl also inures you against the wonders and challenges that occur in the world outside the bowl.

If you were accustomed to living in the ocean for years, you developed strategies that protected you against predators and danger. Your survival skills were at the ready and you were always prepared to protect, react, and survive. Life outside the bowl also taught you how to communicate and help others who assisted you in being a member of the community of swimmers who were part of the greater ocean and who faced the daily challenge together and collectively.

By my own admission I retreated into a goldfish bowl. Loss and inertia overtook me and I retreated into a small and lovely goldfish bowl. I have inhabited it for five years now.

It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that you are living a life inside your gilded goldfish bowl, because there are no challenges. Life just goes on with the same beautiful plants and landscapes that are always lovely and unchanging, but I am slowly dying of boredom and stupor.

Terrifyingly I am attempting to crawl up the sides of my bowl and cast myself back into the ocean. I am older, slower, and not as vigorous as I once was, but I believe that with a bit of support from the greater swimmers out there, I will make it.

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The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

Time

The perpetual clock counts down the seconds of my life 

as it silently ticks on
marking the era I spent here in between birth and death.
Time marked by childhood joys and innocent times
growing older, taking a lover, becoming a mother.
The seconds pass by inexorably.

Joyous events have left their invisible stain as did the tragedies.
My sister’s clock became motionless too soon.
Time arbitrarily stopped it and forever changed the lives of those who loved her.
There are no illusions when you know the ending to the story
yet still I rise every day unencumbered by the sound of ticking.

The stolen violin

I started to play the violin at seven or eight years of age. My maternal grandmother’s family were all musically talented, and as my older sister Bernice was already playing the piano, my grandmother decided that I should play the violin. I remember my father buying me my first instrument and bringing it home. I unenthusiastically removed it from the case and made an attempt to play it. It sounded dreadful. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but like so many unpromising beginnings, my love for it grew.

Mother Cecily was the resident music teacher in Loreto College Crumlin where I attended school, and I remember happily gathering up my school bag during lessons and escaping the classroom twice weekly for music tutorials of 45 minutes duration. It was many years before music as a subject became an extra-curricular activity which took place after school hours. But while I was I with Mother Cecily I didn’t spend too much time wondering what I missing back in the classroom.

Cecily was an ancient tiny nun, who wore glasses that magnified her eyes so much, that she resembled an owl. She was passionate about music, and most of her pupils adored her. As time went by, I also learned how to read music, as each lesson included musical theory, sight reading and information on great composers and musical artists. I spent many happy hours in her little music room and as I progressed I entered and won several competitions and Feis Ceoil’s.

By the time I was twelve years of age, I was old enough to join the school orchestra. We performed at various events throughout the school year and competed with other schools in orchestral competitions. A couple of years later when we teamed up with the  Castleknock College Boys School orchestra, there was a sudden flurry of teen aged Loreto girls who begged to join the orchestra never having played an instrument before, pleading with Mother Cecily that they could quickly learn to play the triangle or other percussion instruments. Cecily gently insisted that they would have to know how to read music in order to become part of the orchestra, and many hopes were dashed, as being part of this musical ensemble suddenly became very cool amongst my peers.

Travelling out to the boarding school in Castleknock by hired bus every other Saturday was always an adventure, and after practice when Mother Cecily and Father Fehily went to take tea, we had an hour or two to gallivant and hang out with the lovely boys of Castleknock in the grounds of the college. I remember this period in my life as being great fun and I kept in contact with a few of those boys throughout my teen and early adult years.

My father had only one sibling, his brother Tommy who had never married. He was a skilled carpenter like my dad, but he enjoyed making musical instruments as a hobby. One Christmas he presented me with a beautiful handmade violin. It was remarkable. Each peg had mother of pearl and nine carat gold embedded in the wood, and the fingerboard featured an unusual treble clef motif in Ivory. The back of the violin was exquisitely inlaid with a mother of pearl rose whose petals held various hues and colours. It was absolutely unique. Tommy had spent almost a year, sourcing materials and crafting this precious gift for me and I had never owned anything so beautiful.

It didn’t come with a case, and when my father and I went to the music shop Mc Cullagh Piggott’s to buy one, we realised that the instrument was slightly larger than a standard violin so we couldn’t get a case to fit.

When I returned to school after the holidays, I carried the instrument in a makeshift soft bag that I had cobbled out of old jumpers. When Mother Cecily saw it, she rooted out an old ungainly wooden handmade case that looked like a coffin but the new instrument fitted inside perfectly.

As my violin was slightly bigger than a standard one Mother Cecily used me as a viola player when the need arose. We simply switched strings and I became the ‘viola section’ of the orchestra. The viola is the second instrument in the string family, graduating on to the cello, and finally to the double base. Being part of the violin section of the orchestra, I performed with several other players, but when my violin became a viola, I was always playing solo. I enjoyed the deeper tones that the alternative strings produced, and I also enjoyed the magical status that my violin held. It was a two in one and very special.

Because the wooden case was cumbersome and very heavy, I left it on a rack in a school corridor with other instruments and practised at home on my old violin. Leaving instruments on the rack in school was a common practice, and although they stood in a busy corridor, these instruments were out of bounds to pupils and were never touched or moved. On our trips out to Castleknock, it was simply lifted and placed on the bus, along with all the other violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and various percussion instruments that were also often left on the rack.

Uncle Tommy only visited our house about twice a year, but the violin was always brought out and I performed for him. He enjoyed classical music and it was a shared subject that we could talk about. I was an awkward teenager, and he was a bachelor with limited experience of kids, so the instrument and the music gave us opportunities to chat and to enjoy each other’s company.

One Saturday in early summer I went into the school to collect my violin as I had a competition later that day. I went to the rack and opened the case, but the violin was not inside. It had been stolen sometime between the previous day when I had had a lesson and that morning when I called to collect it.

Despite a thorough search of the entire school the violin never turned up. Fliers were sent around, and every teacher asked every class if anyone knew what had happened to my violin. No one came forward and the instrument was never found. Sadly the nuns refused to take responsibility for its loss. I felt so bad. My mother believed that I was at fault and had somehow ‘lost it’ or left it on the bus (as I had done a few years previously with the older violin, which was recovered from the C.I.E  lost property office a day later).

When Uncle Tommy came to visit that Christmas, my father and mother lied to him and told him that the violin was in school in the “big case” over the holidays, as they believed that it would break his heart to find out that it had been stolen. I still remember playing my dishonest musical renditions for him on the old violin that Christmas. I felt guilty with every note that I produced and cut short the performance that I usually basked in.

He died the following spring never knowing that it was gone. The heart of playing the violin left me after that, and despite still having my older instrument I subsequently left the orchestra. The old violin was eventually passed onto a younger cousin, along with the sheet music, books, music stand, and other paraphernalia associated with it.

After I left school I took my musical knowledge and got a job in Walton’s music store in Dublin where I worked very happily for over four years. Over the course of those years, many second hand violins were brought in to the shop to trade up to newer instruments. I kept my eyes out, and all the sales staff knew the story of the stolen violin. But I’ve never seen it again.

I sometimes trawl through the Internet in the hope that I might stumble across it. I don’t know what I would do if I found it, I just know that I would recognise it in an instant as there could never be another one like it.

Destiny can often be about still appreciating things that are given with love long after they have gone.

Sink or Swim

As we go through life we encounter many obstacles. We stumble over them, we navigate around them, and we plough on forward. It’s a one way street. Reflecting back on my life, I recognise that there have been many boulders along my path, and I know that I have steered my ship through many stormy seas.

Like many others I didn’t get a life raft and I had to learn to swim with sharks in order to survive. (forgive the overuse of metaphors in this piece of writing).

I realise that many of the blocks in my lifetime have been caused by people, their actions and reactions, their opinions and their viewpoints.. When you are trying to muddle your way out of a situation that largely affects you and only you, the decision to sink or swim is down to your own desire for survival.

In my late teens, the transition from being a single girl about town to being in a relationship was a new adventure for me. It suddenly wasn’t just all about me and my own endurance. Amazingly I was thrust into being the other half of a ‘couple’. Thinking and acting as one as we ventured forth into marriage and a grown up life where problems were shared instead of having to go it alone.

As a parent, passing on wisdom to my children was part of the job that I signed up to on giving birth. At times information and advice was well received, and at other times it was scorned and ridiculed. It’s always difficult to find a balance, and I understood (but not always liked) this awkward conundrum between parents and their offspring.

Like many others I’m sure, I have a passionate and overwhelming love for my now adult children, and I have attempted to protect them throughout their lives. Sometimes I have been over zealous and controlling (when they were teens) and other times I have been ill informed about particular circumstances and defended them when I should have taken a step back and listened to others. In my defence, I usually reacted about what I perceived was unjust behaviour and acted upon it even when it turned out that my offspring were at fault. Like me, they have flaws and are imperfect.

Time has moved on, and my children are now fully grown and are on their own pathways through life. They are in charge of their own vessels and have had to learn to steer through life for themselves. Their dad and I are fully present in their lives, and I know that we are a supporting influence in matters of importance.

Our family is very small. At its heart, there are two parents, and two kids. We fight, argue, listen and love. As parents we have opinions on every element of their lives that we are included in, and this can produce huge discussions (where no one agrees) sulks, laughter, gaiety and tears.

They are both so different. My daughter is a listener, pragmatic, very kind, clear thinking, thoughtful and sensible (like her dad). My son is an action man, an organiser, flamboyant, caring, generous, kind and thoughtful. Their very individual characteristics are acknowledged and celebrated all the time. In this wonderful small life, we have all learned to love and appreciate, and to fully support each other no matter what else is happening.

We have recently had the most horrendous eighteen months with the most difficult circumstances that has affected us all as a family, but that has impacted on my son Andy most of all.

We have all been tested. Truth, honesty, faith in human kindness, our belief and trust in each other, and how we view those who looked at us, have been held under a microscope where strangers have gazed and judged.

As a person who has minutely examined and reflected on the response of people who live in close proximity to me and my family throughout my whole life, some of the reactions have been disappointing.

Despite my belief that friendship and loyalty are qualities to be treasured and nurtured, I am unsurprised by some peoples responses, but sadly my family have been. That’s not to say that I’ve not been shocked by others reactions, I have been and they have changed me and how I view them.

Sincerity is something that carries huge value for me, as does integrity and truth.

Blind trust these days is rarely asked, but if there is a foundation of honesty, I believe that it’s easier to make the choice between belief and doubt, and sometimes people have to make the difficult decision about which side to fall on. Truth versus innuendo/ belief versus gossip/ honesty versus lies.

Having had no life raft during the past eighteen months, it’s been sometimes difficult to keep our heads above water. As a family we paddled persistently to avoid drowning and helped each other constantly as we threatened to slip under.

Thankfully and happily things have changed. Perspectives are altered, new goals have been achieved, and future prospects are looking more positive.

To the wonderful, nurturing, trusting people in my life who I treasure beyond measure, thank you for providing support based on the person that you know, trust and love. From the deepest place inside myself I am grateful. The hope and empathy that you have given us during our darkest days as a family, has steered us through the roughest toughest seas that I have ever encountered in my lifetime.

We are navigating towards blue skies and calmer waters ahead, and we will not sink, we will swim. As a family, we will survive.

Destiny is realising that anchors are the people who stabilise us when we are lost at sea without a compass.

Gone is the saddest word…..

Every time I opened the door to her home I was met by a scent which was unique and personal. It was her house, containing her life and her memories. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was simply distinctive. I have excellent olfactory senses despite being a smoker which is rare as everyone tells me. Senses are dulled and ruined by cigarettes but mine have somehow escaped intact. My sense of smell has always been good. It can detect foodstuffs that are no longer fresh despite the “best before date”, and with cooked food I use my nose as a gauge which decides whether I will eat it or not. If there is a hint of suspicion that it is not the freshest, my nose guides me. It has rarely let me down.

I am also great at identifying scents and fragrances. I can catch a whiff as someone passes, and will be able to “name that brand”. It’s like my X factor talent. I love perfume, and wear it every day. I sniff uncontrollably and unconsciously all the time taking in smells around me.

I clearly remember an early morning flight from London some years ago when I sat in a seat on board the aeroplane with my face occasionally pressed through the seats in front of me trying (without success) to identify the “scent” of the business man who sat there and who smelt divine. After several visits to the men’s cosmetic counters in Dublin department stores over the course of that summer I eventually “found” the smell, bought the product, and still continue to wear it regularly despite it being marketed as a “man fragrance”. Calvin Klein- Escape. It’s a musky fragrance that warms and changes as your body goes through the day. I never tire of it.

Two years ago as my dear and much loved mother in law became frail and unequipped to live alone; a sleep over rota was put in place by her family. I stayed over every Thursday night. I had my own key, and every week as I let myself in, I was enveloped unconsciously by the odours of her house. Not a perfume as she never wore it, just the smells that settle in any house that are distinctive to the person who lives there.

When I would come home the following morning, unpacking my clothes I could smell her lingering scent as I put them out for washing. I never really thought about it.
When she died and her house was subsequently emptied of all her possessions before it was sold, I felt really sad clearing out clothes and recalling this wonderful woman who I would miss forever. I took a couple of little keepsakes to remember her by, and I have them in my home so that she is somehow amongst us in the things that held meaning for her. I miss her all the time. She was a very special woman and I loved her dearly.

Time moves on and as a family we continue to cope with her loss. She was 94 when she died and she lived a great and long life although we miss her all the time.

There was a leak in my own house recently. It wasn’t major, but water poured into the hot-press and soaked all the linen and other paraphernalia that was stored inside it. My husband pulled out all the towels and sheets that were stored there and set them to dry on radiators and clothes horses after the leak was fixed. I was away when this happened although I knew of the catastrophe as we were in touch by phone.

I arrived home later that same night. The house was in darkness and I knew my husband was in bed. As I opened the door and stepped inside I could “smell” his mother. It was unnerving and completely unexpected. Her distinctive smell was in my hall. I don’t believe in ghosts but I was completely unbalanced by it.

I walked through the downstairs of my house but couldn’t figure how or why I was “smelling” her. I turned out lights and made my way up the stairs as the scent grew stronger and stronger. As I turned on the landing, I immediately spotted the small Blarney woollen blanket that she used to cover her lap with when she was cold draped across our banisters. I didn’t realise that my husband had rescued it from her home and had stored it in our hot press. It was just another item amongst all the other bits and pieces that were pulled out and dried after the leak.
The moment really shook me. I believe that up to then I had coped well with her death, carried on, missed her, yet remembered her. But in that minute on the landing as I lifted and snuggled into her blanket, holding it to my face and inhalling her unique scent, I understood that ‘gone’ is really the saddest word as I realised unhappily and sadly that I will never smell her again.

Destiny can be about acknowledging special people like Bernie Morrissey whose scent and memories linger on.

Being gay in May in Ireland 2015

Reflecting on the momentous ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage by a popular vote in Ireland that took place yesterday,  I remember the time that my son told me that he was gay. It took place in my sitting room one night when he was seventeen years of age. The year was 2002.

Ireland was a different place thirteen years ago. It seems like such a short space in time, but looking back from the inside out, society has radically changed since then.

Over the intervening days after he ‘came out’, as parents I hope we provided lashings of emotional support. I remember it being a bit ‘hit and miss’ at times and his dad struggled more than I did. He thought it might be ‘just a phase’. This was a path that we never thought we would have to walk, and we were completely unprepared for it.

While I was supporting him, I was also trying to cope with my own personal feelings of grief, as I silently and secretly mourned the daughter in law that I would never have, and the loss of his children that would never be born that I would never hold. How selfish of me.

A few nights later overhearing him crying alone in his bedroom believing that we might not accept his orientation was heart-breaking but pivotal in our relationship and how we viewed him as a person. We immediately surrounded him with acceptance and love and assured him of our support. How could we not. (His dad and I  quickly got over ourselves and our own feelings.)

Over the next few weeks we eventually had conversations about his own troubles and about his sadness on realising that he might never be a parent as he has always loved children, but all the while we talked about a future where many things, including being a father were possible.

I believe that we all have unconscious trajectories of how we hope life will work itself out for our children. We have dreams and hopes, and we want the best for them. We don’t want their lives to be marked by discrimination, prejudice or hatred, and naively we expect that somehow the universe will deliver.

My son’s ‘coming out’ marked a transitional period in our lives. As an Irish Mammy, I was consumed by imaginary future hardships, rejection, acceptance, and how living/working in Ireland as a gay man would be. He on the other hand was coping with the day to day struggles of being ‘different’ and coming out to his peers and how they viewed him.

Throughout this time he was still my boy, beloved and unchanged, and my extended family, but especially my mother Monnie and sister Annie were the most wonderfully supportive people when I told them. They reassured him of their acceptance and love, and I never loved my mam more than I did during that time. She never made a smart comment, lewd or otherwise as she would never hurt him. She embraced his orientation, and throughout the remainder of her life would always ask him about boyfriends, his love life etc. in the exact same way that she asked my daughter about her boyfriends and her love life. I absolutely know how she would have voted this week.

Ireland and the world has changed so much in the past thirteen years, and being gay in 2015 is not the same as it was back then. Society has changed, protocol about being gay has changed, school policy on bullying has changed, workplace discrimination has changed, and homophobia and how it impacts on people has been highlighted and changed.

I am not suggesting that it has changed for everyone, and I realise that there are still people who are gay, afraid to be themselves, afraid to be honest and afraid to ‘come out’ to their families and friends. I hope it shifts for them.

The momentous changes that I have seen taking place in Ireland over the past few years in relation to people are staggering. From a Catholic country that was bound by religious oppression and from what Rome unilaterally decreed, we have emerged egalitarian, free thinking and accepting. Perhaps being an oppressed race historically for so long, we have finally learned who we are as a people. We have survived the tyranny of oppression as a colonised country, and we have also survived the tyranny of a religion/church that is outdated, misogynistic and unforgiving.

We have turned our backs on the sovereignty and allegiance that we had to an ideology, to a church, that cast Irish women as second class citizens, who abused these women and their children, and within the protection and confines of their church denied any wrongdoing. We have at last abandoned the discrimination that forced so many gay people to live secretive furtive lives, living in fear of being exposed as being ‘different’, and this week we voted on equality to enshrine in our constitution the legality of same sex marriage.

It is not ‘Ireland’ that has created this incredible societal change; it is the people of Ireland. The ordinary, simple, wonderful Irish citizens who are united in their belief that gay people are equal in their demand for legal marriage status in their own country. I stand proud and tall with every Irish person who voted ‘yes’ on May 22nd 2015.

A ‘yes’ vote has changed the Irish landscape forever, and as the proud mother of a gay man I am so glad and thankful that my fellow country men and women voted with me at the polls, ensuring that if my gorgeous son ever wants to marry a man that he loves, he can. Little did I ever know that night back in 2002 that this was ever going to be possible.

Destiny is an ever changing road, filled with hopes and dreams that sometimes become a reality.