Feeling lucky to live and work in this country
EVENTS of late have made me stop, take stock and ultimately be grateful for the fact that I have been let live my life in the country of my birth.
To the forefront was the recent visit of President Michael D. to Britain. Whether by accident or design, there cannot have been a soul on this island who was not made aware of the occasion. Some may have been gripped by the pageantry, others by pure curiosity but even for the indifferent; bearing witness to this event was always going to be inevitable. And though much was made of the historical significance, the speeches delivered and the gestures made, it was the stories of the Irish “abroad” that struck me most.
Their history acknowledged all that England had yielded for them but it sounded too a yearning for what Ireland sadly had not; there was a resigned acceptance of dreams unfulfilled but still a wonder about the what-ifs and could have-beens. Behind the spectacle of cavalry, horsemen and gilt carriages, I saw separation, heartbreak and moments missed – the embroidery of fragmented lives like remnants of waves upon moving sands.
The President referred to his sisters; themselves émigrés and it made me think how very little has changed. How many sisters are gone now? How many brothers? And how many leave not just a country but a young family behind, searching for a lifeline, seeking sanctuary and looking for home?
In speaking with an elderly widow recently, I learned that recent years have seen her incorporate an annual trip to Australia to see her only child and grandchildren. As a young family in a foreign country carving out a new life, they cannot afford to come home. I tell her she is fortunate to have the health to do this and I tell her she is fortunate to have the resources to be able to go.
I have said all the wrong things. She tells me she is not fortunate at all. She tells me how she begs, steals and borrows to come up with the price of the flight every year. She tells me she compromises, stretches and ignores the anxiety of what the trip does to her health. But she is determined to go regardless. Like so many others what choice does she have? Fortune, she tells me is not going to Australia every year - fortune would be Sunday lunch with her son in a place that was no further than a train ride away.
In the banquet speech, President Higgins made much of the seanfhocal “scáth” and its dual meaning of “shadow” and “shelter”. And though it was used in the context of Britain and Ireland, for me it had resonance in the relationship between emigration and this country. When will our fields shed the shadow of emigration to become a shelter instead? Because at the end of the day is home and shelter not meant to be one and the same thing?”