Last Monday I had the always difficult task of breaking the news to a mother that her young daughter had been found dead in her flat at Jack Allen Court in Derry.
As I held her in my embrace and comforted her she cried sad tears with heavy sorrow. From her aching heart I kept hearing her sob: “My wee Maeve, my wee sweet Maeve.”
I could see a reflection of myself in her story-a lady with a passion for poetry, painting, pottery and music. Like myself, she too had mental health issues which she fought with great courage.
They say that it’s from that broken wound, that vulnerable place of frailty and fragility that the artistic gift often comes and an appreciation for the finer, sometimes hidden things in life finds its wellspring.
Maeve was a talented artist with a degree in Fine Arts from Manchester Polytechnic. She had a beaming smile, a wicked sense of humour and a throaty laugh.
She had the gift of being fully present to the world around her and the ability to see beauty and wonder in all she experienced. She would phone her sisters with excitement about the latest book she was enjoying or a piece of music that stole her heart away.
She was generous in her appreciation of the kindness and goodness of others, especially their artistic achievements.
“She praised and encouraged me in my poetry,” her sister Colette told me, Colette who is now an established Irish Poet. (Books available on Amazon)
At the Requiem Mass some of Maeve’s art work was displayed and I read one of her own poems in my homily, one line of which goes: “The stopped clock tells its own time.”
In our eyes the clock stopped for Maeve, far too early. But for our Father in Heaven, whose ways are not our ways, it was time to call her gentle soul home.
On that sad Monday morning when I got that call from the police to come and give Maeve the Last Rites I noticed a plaque on the wall which went ‘Live, Laugh, Dance, Love.’ With all the exuberance of her spontaneous spirit Maeve had done that ‘in spades’.
Colette gave me a gift of her latest book, Selected Poems, and said that I have a mention in one of them about growing up in Derry.
It’s a memory she had of me coming into her primary school in Francis Street and banging out ‘Teddy Bear’ on the piano. I like the pun on the word King, Elvis as King and Christ the King. It brought back some memories of my own as a young priest during those painful times.
‘’I was born between the Creggan and the Bogside
To the sounds of crowds and smashing glass
By the River Foyle with its suicides and rip tides.
I thought that city was nothing less.
Than the whole and rain-domed universe.
A teacher’s daughter, I was one of nine
Faces afloat in the looking-glass
Fixed in the hall, but which was mine?
I wasn’t ever sure.
We walked to school, linked hand in hand
In twos and threes like paper dolls.
I slowly grew to understand
The way the grey Cathedral cast
Its shadow on our learning, cool,
As sunlight crept from east to west,
The adult world had tumbled into hell.
From where it wouldn’t find its way
For thirty years. The local priest
Played Elvis tunes and made us pray
For starving children, and for peace.
And lastly for ‘The King.’ At Mass we’d chant
Hypnotically, ‘Hail Holy Queen,
Mother of Mercy’; sing to Saint
Columba of his Small Oak Grove, O Derry mine.”
(excerpt from ‘Derry’ by Colette Bryce)
With the click of a mouse or a text on your phone
Or a fax from some faraway place
We have the world at our fingers, no need for our feet.
Just skype and be seen face- to -face.
You can tweet what you had for breakfast this morn’
or Google any query you like.
Your phone or your iPad’s your very best friend
And Wi-Fi both husband and wife.
You can sit at a table of kids for a meal
And try to share something to say
But each head is bent low, digits dancing a jig,
all lost in a place far away.
Are skipping ropes, bows and arrows, even books too,
Soon to be things of the past?
Poor Santa’s confused, his elves gone on strike,
Saying ‘it’s all moving too fast.’
Words of Wisdom
Never change your originality for the sake of others. Because no one can play your role better than you. So be yourself. You are the best.
Having reached the grand age of 69 last Tuesday I was reminded of the following joke:
At the seaside the man renting the yachts kept calling on his megaphone: “Number 69 your time is up, come back in!” This went on for a half hour until finally he asked: “Number 96, are you having trouble?”
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