Category Archives: Philosophy

Intimate conversations between strangers.

My husband and I decided to go away for a few days holidays this week to briefly escape the dirt and mess in our home as we are currently undertaking some renovation work. We chose a hotel from the Internet completely randomly and with no real knowledge of what it offered, left for our destination in County Mayo. We holiday in Ireland quite a lot but usually stick to coastal villages and towns. This hotel was situated inland on a lakeshore, and in a region that we hadn’t explored with great depth in the past.

 
On checking in we were told our room wasn’t quite ready, so while we waited we went into the hotel bar and had lunch overlooking the beautiful lake. After an hour, we made our way up to the bedroom to find a middle aged housekeeper bustling around apologetically as the room wasn’t quite ready. My husband left the room to get something from the car and I sat on the bed chatting to her as she vacuumed around the room. We started chatting about the weather, the hotel, and life in general.

 
I mentioned that I would have liked to book a particular suite but on checking in found that it had already been reserved. She told me with a smile that she had just let two women into it and said that she had “opened her big mouth too quickly” when she told them that it only had one bed. I asked her what she meant and she replied “sure you never know these days what people are about”. Realising that she was possibly making reference to the women’s sexual orientation, I smilingly suggested that in modern Irish society people could get on with their lives in their own way, and that no one need make any remarks about what they choose to do or how they choose to live.

 
She agreed wholeheartedly and told me about the guest that they regularly had, who ‘came up the stairs dressed as a man, but who came down the stairs dressed as a woman’. She believed in ‘letting live and minding her own business and letting people get on with their own lives without prejudice’. She continued cleaning the room as all this chat was going on and was starting to dust the surfaces on the window sills when she stopped and looked me in the eye as she told me that her husband had attempted suicide a year before.

 
I looked straight back at her and asked how he was now both physically and mentally. She told me of how he had held a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger, but that somehow he had missed that vital organ, and the bullet had passed it without damage and emerged under his shoulder. The physical healing had only taken a few weeks, but the mental healing was still on going. She spoke about the lack of local services for people who are suffering with mental health issues and how the monthly appointments that her husband had were not doing him as much good as she had hoped. I asked her how she was coping and she was in the middle of telling me about the support that she had, when my husband walked back into the room.With a swish of her duster and a smile for me, she was off as she wished us a pleasant stay and a restful holiday.

 
When she left I looked at my watch. The conversation had lasted only about four or five minutes, yet she managed to convey so much of herself to me, a total stranger during that time. I learnt about her acceptance of same sex relationships, of possible transgendered men or of cross dressers, and I also learned that her life had been profoundly affected by her husband’s attempt to take his own life. These revelations took place in a hotel room between two people from two different generations, from two different places yet who shared five minutes of incredible intimacy together.

 
I will never know what made her disclose these details of her life, but I am glad that she felt that she could share them with me. I believe that honest encounters between people can be a part of what is lacking in this fast paced world that we live in, and in that intimate exchange in an anonymous hotel room in the West of Ireland we were two women who briefly and cosmically connected with each other.

 
Destiny can be about short encounters that remind us of the fragile nature of human life and how we respond to it.

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My sister’s birthday is approaching…..

I was born in 1960, the 2nd child in a family of five children. I don’t remember the  births of my two younger brothers but I do remember with absolute clarity the night that my baby sister Annie was born when I was ten years of age. She was born on November 7th 1970.

That particular summer, my mam didn’t want to go to Kerry in August on holidays as we had done previously. I remember being disgusted that I wasn’t going to see my friends in Ballyheigue that year because my Uncle Paddy, my mams brother, had offered us his caravan in nearby Clogherhead instead.

Looking back I realise that my mam didn’t want to be too far away from her doctor when she was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, but as a ten year old child I had no idea that a baby was on the way and that this was the rationale for the location of the family holiday that year.

That summer was very hot, and we had a great holiday in Clogherhead but it just wasn’t Kerry. Although I enjoyed the caravan holiday, I remember the time as being strange and disruptive. Mum was just different and I didn’t quite know why. Pregnancy was not talked about as openly as it is now, and as a child I had no idea that my mother was shortly to give birth although I had asked her about why she was ‘getting fat’ without getting a satisfactory answer. She brushed those questions aside that summer and I never suspected anything until I was back in school in September. I vaguely remember asking her if she was going to have a baby with no real idea of why I was asking the question, and mam telling me that her ‘bump’ was wind!

By the time October rolled around, she did tell me that she was going to have a baby but that I wasn’t to tell anybody! News like that was too much for a curious ten year old and I constantly bombarded her with questions about the new baby although I hadn’t a clue that this event was linked to her growing tummy! (I was a very innocent child at the time).

Anyway….. She had an elective delivery and was well prepared in advance.

Her gynaecologist had booked a room for her in a private nursing home on a particular day in November assuring her that he would ‘induce’ her and that her baby would be born that day. A-la-carte delivery days were all the fashion back then…

I remember being packed off to my grandparents’ house with my older sister and my two younger brothers…. It was a weekend, but we had never all stayed away from home together without one of my parents being present. I didn’t settle well in the double bed that I was sharing with my older sister that night.

My dad’s car at the time had a broken exhaust and it was very loud. You could hear the car coming before you saw it.

That night on November 7th 1970 I lay awake beside my sister Bernice in a strange bed in the darkness, listening to the different street sounds outside my grandparents’ house on the canal in Dublin city. At some stage during that long night I heard a noise in the distance and listened carefully as it grew louder and louder. I knew the sound of dad’s car (and the broken exhaust) and as it got closer I got out of bed knowing absolutely that it was my dad approaching and I crept down the stairs while the rest of the house slept.

I clearly remember the moment I opened the front door in my pyjamas, and saw my smiling dad as he walked up the garden path in the darkness towards the steps of the house. He leaned his arm against the door frame, grinning at me and said “you have a new little sister”.

This story is part of the landscape of my life.

When my darling sister Annie was old enough to listen, she loved to hear me recounting each special moment that I remembered of that particular night as she grew up. It was called ‘her story”. As she became an adult and a friend in my life, it was a ‘thing’ a ‘routine’ between us that would happen on her birthday. She would wait in anticipation that day for a phone call from me recounting faithfully my memories of the ‘day of her birth’, and she would suspend whatever it was she was doing at the time in order to hear the story. If lunchtime arrived and I hadn’t called, she would be on the phone indignantly demanding to hear it. It was and still is like a script in my head that contains colour, sound and texture of one of the most memorable nights of my life. This was one of the most precious things that we shared.

That first birthday – November 7th 2009 after her death was dreadfully sad for me as I couldn’t phone her and do the thing that we had done for so many years … No one will ever know or understand the simplicity and joy contained in that story and what it meant to us as sisters every year it was retold.

Her birthday approaches yet again…. I miss her constantly and my life is bereft without her.

November 7th 1970 is the day my darling sister Annmarie Patricia O’Neill was born. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful and beautiful relationship with this lovely girl, and I will gladly recount the story of the night of her birth to anyone who cares to listen because sadly she is not here to hear it anymore…..

My destiny lies in our past and my future without her……

The flip side of the coin…

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family”. The opening words of the iconic monologue from the 1996 movie ‘Trainspotting’.

But what choices do we really have when it comes to living?

I believe that life can be a series of accidents and opportunities that are constantly dependent on outside factors that we have absolutely no control over at all.

Take that great job interview that you recently did. You know that you ticked all the boxes. You know that you are qualified for the job. You have the expertise. You presented well on the day and you answered all the questions correctly.

You didn’t get the job.

Outside influences may have played a major part. The Interviewer may not have liked the colour of your hair, or she may have had her best friend’s daughter interviewing later that day. You will never know the reason.

You will go over and over what it was that you did wrong, and never find the answer because it was nothing to do with you, it was to do with someone else making a decision that might affect the rest of your life.

You had decided on a particular path assured in the belief that if you completed A you would progress to B and then on to C. Mapping out our lives is something that we all do. We have goals and aspirations to aim for, and we hope that they will be realised as we all work toward personal fulfilment.

Achievements are celebrated and greater goals are set as we attempt to pilot our way through our lives, providing for our families, setting example by our standards and generally expecting that things will work out the way we want them to because we have worked so hard to make it happen. It’s what we have been taught to do. I cannot visualise my world without order, hope, expectations and dreams.

But life is actually so arbitrary. I realise this now, and it has taken me so long to understand it.

I realise that no matter how qualified I am for a particular job, it’s someone else’s decision as to whether I get it or not.

I realise that being an obedient citizen guarantees me nothing.

I realise that actions and decisions take place that impact on my life all the time and that I have no hand in them.

I realise that most of life is chaotic and unplanned, despite our belief that there is an order to the events that affect us.

I realise that no matter how much I try to protect the people that I love, I cannot keep them safe from harm.

I realise that I have to let go my feelings of desolation because life didn’t work out quite as I had planned it would.

I realise that life can be explained by the simple metaphor of a coin toss.

Heads you live – Tails….

Destiny can just be about flipping the coin of life and accepting where it lands.

Is this Destinydelivered…..

There is something deep inside of me that is loosened by alcohol. I am not sure if it is a feeling of inadequacy, shyness, or reluctance, but I recognise that if I have a glass or two of wine, and I am near my computer- I am compelled to write my thoughts down.

Since I began blogging last year (July 2011) I have wanted to record and write so many things… It started out as a kind of living diary for me and for my already grown up children… I wanted them to somehow ‘see’ the person that was inside their mother….

I wanted them to separate the familiar ‘mammy’ that they knew and grew up with, from the woman that I was before they were born and who also lived a parallel life while they were children.

My ramblings were not intended for them to scrutinise in the ‘here and now’- they were for after I was gone.

This was the shyness, or the reluctance that stopped me from publically posting my blog for such a long time. I was afraid of being questioned, afraid of being ridiculed, afraid of being judged.

Becoming a blogger in the past year, I have learnt that writing personal stories, thoughts and histories, and sharing them amongst friends and family has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

It can sometimes be difficult to articulate fears and inexperience, to flounder in the face of adversity, and in front of people who expect that you will always perform to your optimum.

Blogging has allowed me to share how unsteady I have felt in my past, and also how I recognise that my future is not mapped out and assured.

I began writing this blog as a life diary for my children so that they could somehow know me after I was gone, but in writing it, I am getting to know myself more so than I ever thought possible by simply recounting my life and recording it.

Is this Destinydelivered?

Modern Technology and sleeping naked with German Film Directors…..

While chatting via text with a dear pal in Connecticut recently I was struck by the advances in technology that allow us to communicate instantly by typing words into a little piece of plastic. Our words and actions are captured and transmitted in the blink of an eye, and people in deepest darkest Peru ( as in the case of another friend recently) can stay in touch with family and friends, and carry on conversations via text- email- Skype and Facebook.

We are currently living in a global village where so many people are connected through various technologies, and sometimes my conversations on particular topics with friends or family can go on over several days using different technological platforms.

I can take photos and share them instantly. I can upload videos and do the same. The advances in social networking can mean that we never have to feel alone, although physically we may be.

While all this communication can be viewed as a good thing, there are those who lament the passing of letter writing and telephone conversations that used to go on for hours. People of my age and older remember queuing up outside public telephone boxes waiting for their turn to call home at the weekend before the advent of personal mobile phones. I personally remember the need to have lots of coin change for the operator when making long distance calls on public phones or the dreaded ‘pips’ would sound the untimely end of the conversation if the money ran out.

Telephone conversations between families back in the day were usually restricted if the family members were scattered across the globe, and I clearly remember a time growing up when all families in my neighbourhood did not have a telephone. One lucky neighbour had a public phone box outside her house and random passers-by would regularly answer the ringing phone and be instructed by the caller to ‘knock on number 98 and get Margaret for me please’.

Personally I still like to write and although I rarely go out and buy a stamp to put on an envelope, I do write emails in the same way that I used to write letters. I try to keep them informative and newsy and I think about the person reading them and what they will think upon receiving news about particular things or people. I stay in touch online with friends and family, and although I may text them regularly I also like to sit down and write emails to keep them informed about stuff that I may not text them about. It’s good to fill in the colours of an outline that I may have hinted about in a text message.

Living in this modern technological world we are more aware of how possible indiscretions can land us in trouble. Photos captured when you were not looking your best at 3am are cheerfully uploaded by ‘friends’ so that everyone can see how you had a wardrobe malfunction, or worse still, dribbling kebab sauce all over that beautiful top that you paid a fortune for the day before.

The list of shared horrors can go global in seconds…

Recalling an incident a few years ago I was invited to my cousin’s house in County Wicklow with my husband for a dinner party and an overnight stay. We regularly entertained and were on the ‘Dinner Party’ circuit with my cousin and his wife. He is a professional composer and musician, and all his parties ended with sing songs around the piano where he would belt out tunes and I would sing our grandmothers and mothers favourite songs. His mam and my mam are dear sisters.

This particular night my hubby and I arrived late. We dumped our overnight bag in the hall and charged down to meet the other guests who had gathered in the bar. Yes- our hosts did have a full bar in that particular house complete with high stools, optics and neon signs. It was a very cool party house.

I was introduced to a German Film Director (who shall remain nameless) and over a couple of pre-dinner drinks we discussed film, world politics (as you do) and other subjects. We got cosy on the high stools and when we were eventually called out of the bar into the dining room for dinner we sat beside each other in order to finish off our conversation.

As the night progressed and the wine flowed, the chat was divided equally amongst the other guests present. I was engaging, chatty and in fine form for the singing that eventually took place with my cousin at the piano. I was wearing a long black high necked cocktail dress on the night and at some stage my underwire bra began to pinch! I remember sneaking out to the hall (where my overnight bag was still residing) pulling the bra off and stuffing it into the bag and resuming my place at the piano where no one was any the wiser as to my bra less state.

At about 3am the guests began to depart and my husband also said good night to me, leaving my cousin and I still singing at the piano. The German Film Director had long left the company although he was also staying overnight.

My cousin and I were the last ones standing, his wife having also taken leave of us, abandoning us to our demented sentimental singing.

We continued chatting, singing and drinking until I noticed dawn creeping around the window frames, and having said good night/morning I stumbled my way upstairs to my room. As I entered the bedroom, daylight was filtering in through the curtains. I glanced around for my overnight bag and not seeing it, decided that it was just easier to peel my dress up over my head and sleep in my knickers.

I crawled into the familiar uncomfortable rigid futon and snuggled up against my husband’s back and wrapped my arm around him to get some heat. I murmured something about the fecking futon being ‘so damned hard’…. and that’s the last thing I remember before waking up alone with sunshine flooding the room at about 1pm the following day.

Looking around for my overnight bag and not finding it, I pulled on the dress from the night before and made my way down stairs to the lovely and welcome smell of breakfast. I entered the kitchen to greet my husband, my cousin, his wife and the German Film Director who were all sitting at the table. The stony silence matched their stony faces.

Grinning I took my place and asked why everyone was so quiet…. The German Film Director spoke first. “Leaving the party was tough” he said “but I knew I had to be up to travel to the airport. What I didn’t expect was a naked woman to creep into my bed, snuggle up to me, rub her breasts against my back, mutter something about it being hard and then to turn over and start snoring”.

Sitting there I remembered thinking “this conversation is strangely familiar”…… The four stern faces around the table confirmed that YES… I had gotten into the wrong bed!

In my defense!

My cousin had told my husband when we arrived LATE that we had been allocated another bedroom that night but neither of them had told me. I just followed a familiar worn path to the same room that we had previously occupied.

When the gracious German Film Director was accosted in his bed by a semi naked inebriated house guest who believed that the bed was HERS, he did the gentlemanly thing and vacated it immediately and spent the rest of the night on the downstairs sofa. (Or so he said)!

When my husband woke up and found me missing from his/our bed in the allocated alternative guest room he did a search for me and found me asleep on the familiar futon alone at about 9am. He also found the German Film Director asleep on the downstairs sofa.

Gathering early that morning, my husband, my cousin, his wife and the German Film Director pieced together the entire previous night’s scenario before I had raised my head, and collectively they decided to make me suffer AND THEY DID!

I remember sitting there thinking that had I fancied the German Film Director for an instant (and I didn’t) I could never have pulled off a stunt like this even if I wanted to.

We all departed the best of friends at about 4pm that day. The German Film Director drove to the airport to go home, my hubby and I went home to Dublin, and my cousin and his wife spent the remainder of the day clearing the detritus from the night before.

I was only home and in the door about 15 minutes when the texts and phone calls started. My escapades had reached the four corners of the globe and my mother was the first person on the phone. “Were you naked in bed with a Foreign Film Director while your husband was asleep in another room” she asked.

News like this in the 70’s & 80’s would have taken months via letter writing and queuing outside public phone boxes on windy nights to relay. It would have gathered legs, and reputations could/would be ruined before the real truth was revealed.

Conversation and information that travels via text messaging and social media is so instant and has the power to influence how we think and react. My innocent late night escapades reached my extended family and friends across the globe within hours and I spent the next few days explaining and justifying how I came to be naked in a bed with a complete stranger.

Thankfully the situation didn’t ‘damage’ my reputation although my many far flung family members and friends had a good laugh about it.

Damn it! Had it been a clandestine one night affair dya think I would/could have explained it so easily?

I don’t think so.

Destiny maybe the subconscious devil in us all…..

Missing someone….

Missing you is not something that I think about every minute of every day.
Missing you is something different.
Missing you is not hearing your voice and laughter.
Missing you is not smelling your special sweet smell.
Missing you is not having you to hug and listen to.
Missing you is looking at your children and seeing your lovely features in them.
Missing you is our stories and history unfinished.
Missing you is my present and future without you.
Missing you is like missing the other half of me.

Missing you is simply always missing you.

Are virtual Internet friends real?

Growing up in the 70’s all of my friends were people that I knew intimately. That’s what the word ‘friend’ meant to me. This ideal remained unchanged throughout most of my life and the people that I called friends were physical people that I knew and socialised with.

Meeting new people who have shared interests and that you ‘click’ with has always been difficult for me. I have been bored many times by friends of friends on nights out who prattled on about stuff that didn’t engage me, and then again there have been spectacular conversations with casual strangers who have been on the periphery of the company that I was with on particular nights. I often wished that I was brave enough to ask some of these people to meet up with me again so that we could continue the conversations and discussions another time long after the night was over. My own insecurities gagged and stopped me. Half of the time it was probably just as well. Morning sobriety has its own way of negating the previous night’s ‘stimulating conversation’.

Meeting people that we are compatible with is so hit and miss and random. It seems to be reflected in the proliferation of ‘Date/Mate sites’ that are all over the Internet, attempting to match people with similar interests together. In the past ten years because of the Internet and on line social media, the idea of ‘friends’ has become much more complex in one way and yet more fluid in another.

There are places on the Internet where people who have shared interests can gather, relate and chat. This can be a cyber/virtual place where your actual global location has no bearing or relevance to the conversation or interaction that is taking place. I adore this relatively new medium.

As an avid Scrabble player I have discovered and found new friends with common interests on the World Wide Web. I have played games with people who drift in and out of my life and disappear, and I have also made friends with others who I play with regularly and who I have conversations with about stuff that is personal and relevant to our lives. Although I may not recognise them if I met them on a street like I did growing up, some of these people have become very dear to me and are as important to me as the friends that I see on a regular basis in my daily life in Dublin.

I have been an enthusiastic user of the Internet since its origins and I believe that I can distinguish the good and the bad that lies at the heart of it. One of my first online cyber conversations was with a widow called Sally who hailed from Kansas and whose local Council had bought computers for all the far flung people in her locality so that they could chat and keep in touch with each other. They had also provided lessons for these neighbours on how to use the computers that were a life line to this scattered community. She was 76 years of age and was so thrilled to be type chatting (slowly) online with someone from Ireland. She had always wanted to visit, but sadly never got to make that journey. We stayed in touch for years. We had a lot in common as women and we never ran out of conservation when we were on line. We gossiped like old pals with shared history, and I got to know her and her family through our many chats.

The internet has opened up new ways of making friends for me. I have ‘met’ delightful people throughout the world, and I have had the most wonderful stimulating and complex conversations that would not have been possible without this medium. It has illuminated me on subjects, locations and histories that I lacked understanding of, but that have come alive and understood through the conversations that I have had with ‘virtual friends’. This has added a richness, colour and diversity to my life in ways that I simply cannot articulate.

This week I am welcoming a ‘virtual friend’ to my home for a visit. We have been friends for about five years. We have shared life’s ups and downs on line in the same way that I have shared the same events with my physical friends here in Ireland. We have laughed and cried about events that have shaped our individual lives although we have been thousands of miles apart when these events took place.

We started out playing Scrabble, and then we graduated to Facebook and regular on line chats. This weekend we will finally meet face to face. I am so looking forward to hugging her and welcoming her into my home as I do all my friends.
Without the Internet we would never have become pals. Without the Internet I would not have the relationships that I have with many people stretched across the globe.

Growing up in Dublin I had friends that I recognised by their faces, but this has changed. My many online friends may not be facially recognisable to me, but they are part of a global network that is as meaningful and relevant to me as are the people that I interact with physically on a day to day basis.

Friends are people who understand and love you regardless of where you are in the world.

Destiny can be about making real friends in the most unexpected places….