2018 Grateful 8

I was at home at the weekend. A brief in and out to see how the folks were doing. I went to Saturday evening mass, something I usually don’t like to do as I prefer to save my mass till Sunday. Somehow, going on Saturday doesn’t feel quite the same. Yet I was driving in from the airport, and it was on, and they were at it. So I stopped in.

It made a change to be able to understand what was going on. I’m usually straining to catch words I understand and then patching together the essence of what I think is being said. Boys from the village national school were being enrolled in the Confirmation programme, which explained why the church had fewer empty seats than usual.

I sat mid-way down the church. As one of the teachers called out the names of those being enrolled in the programme, they stood up. Amidst the expected Tadhgs and Jameses and Padraigs was a healthy smattering of names I couldn’t pronounce. Amidst the gingers, the blondes, and the brunettes were some fabulous coiled, coarse, and curly locks, including one fab set of dreads. Ireland wasn’t the only country standing up to be counted. I was impressed at the level of diversity in the school.

Back in my day, some 40 years ago, the diversity banner in our class was carried by a lone American. Her name was Phoebe Eaton. She lived in a house out the Dublin Road that was rumoured to have special plug sockets to take American hairdryers and toasters and kettles. For some weird and wonderful reason I’ve still not discovered, I found that fascinating. I’m not even sure if Phoebe made her confirmation with us, I just remember from primary school, an exotic little thing with massive eyes who twanged when she spoke. Strange. I haven’t thought about her in years. And years. [Out of curiosity I googled the name and found a Phoebe Eaton in NYC who is now a journalist. I wonder if they’re one and the same.]

Anyway, by the time I surfaced from my ruminations, a few of the boys were presenting banners representing the seven gifts of the holy spirit. As I watched and listened I noted that the seven boys standing on the altar as representatives of the Confirmation class, well, they were all obviously Irish. The diversity on display, such as it was, amounted to differences in height, weight, and hair colour.

Well, that set me off in a whole new direction.

Was I the only one in the church thinking that this was a little odd? Was I over-reacting? Was there a backstory I wasn’t privy to? Maybe the boys had volunteered. Maybe they had won a competition. Maybe they were being punished 🙂 Had diversity become so entrenched in the school that I, as an outsider, was the only one noticing that it was missing?

This week I’m grateful that my memory still works and that I’m still noticing things. And that Voltaire isn’t around to say ‘Judge a [wo]man by [her] questions rather than by [her] answers.’



A blessing in disguise

We had a few hours to kill before our Glamping experience was due to start so we hit upon the neighbouring village of Noszvaj. We had plans to see the castle and the caves – caves in which people live today – and then to wander around the wine cellars. We stopped to ask an old lady which path to take to get to the castle and she invited us to church. She said the castle would still be there in an hour but the church service would be over.

IMG_4828 (800x600)IMG_4823 (800x600)Between the four of us, I was the only one to profess an ounce of religion. And it was a Sunday. And I was conscious of my duties. So I left the others to their own devices and headed into mass. Or so I thought.

I sat in the back of this 750-year-0ld church as hymnals were thrust upon me by a series of ladies of indeterminate age. After the fourth had made her offer, the rest sent up a loud chorus: she’s a foreigner. Everyone in the church that day knew I wasn’t Hungarian. And I knew that I was in the wrong church when a woman – and a fashionably dressed woman at that – appeared on the altar.

The second clue I had was when after the first hymn, by request from the lady of the cloth, everyone turned to greet their neighbour, shaking hands and nodding and having a quick chat. Wrong order here – we [RCs] don’t get around to that till nearly the end. And then it’s not so much of a chat but more a quick ‘peace be with you’.

A couple of hymns were a little on the pop-side of the bible. It was hilarious to see some of the headscarfed oldies pew-dancing to the beat.

The sermon took about 20 minutes and from what I gathered, it was mainly about fathers needing to be more than football coaches [this particular Sunday being the Day of Children in Hungary]. She delivered it with aplomb. I didn’t need to understand the words to get the essence. This woman had what so many priests in my church lack – she had presence. She had her audience in the palm of her hand. She had rhythm. She had tone. She had vocal variety in spades. And she had presence – I know I said that already, but it’s worth repeating.

There was no order that I could identify. There was no communion. I looked down once and when I looked up again, the altar was bare. She’d gone. It was over.

IMG_4833 (800x600) (2)IMG_4826 (800x600)IMG_4837 (800x600)I waited to take some photos and as I was leaving fell into conversation with one of the local women whose English was as good as my Hungarian. We got by. It transpired that I’d been to a Reformation church. And they only have communion a few times a year on special occasions. They were highly amused that I’d thought I was going to mass and even more amused when I told them that I was in Noszvaj to taste the wine.

But we parted on good terms.

The village itself is lovely. The old sod roofs are reminiscent of an Ireland of yore. I was quite taken with the solar panelled roofs, too. A nice mix of eco-traditional.  I was sorry to have missed the cave dwellings but I did catch up with the wine. More of that on June 17th, though. Now it’s enough to say that IMG_4838 (800x600)IMG_4848 (800x600)the village is home to the famous Thummerer Winery and a couple of others of note, but Thummerer is the one that gets the  most attention. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. But then again, all I know is what I like. And I liked the painted postboxes. And the feel of the village. And the quaint houses that dated back to the 1800s. I was completely entranced by what looked very like a map of pre-Triannon Hungary marked out in chalk or white stone on a nearby hill. Fascinating. Worth a visit.

IMG_4832 (800x600)

IMG_4853 (800x600)


Patrick’s barn

Given the time of year that’s in it, and given the fact that I’ve had more than my fair share of drugs this past week, I’m in a particularly confessional-like mood. [I know now that I can cross secret agent off my list of mid-life-crisis-driven career changes – stick a drip in me and I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I just don’t have the patience to be a good patient.] It’s not often that I’d admit to this level of ignorance but blame it on this week and the week that’s in it.

The lead-up to St Patrick’s Day is always fraught with anxiety for me – Will the Gift of the Gab final sell out? Will the speakers show? Will the judges do right by them? Will Ireland take the Six Nations? Will it rain on the parade?  This year, thankfully, I can cross ignorance off my list of niggles. I used to dread being asked about St Patrick  and would pall at the thoughts of being presumed an expert by virtue of the fact that I was Irish. I’m sure I’ve made up my fair share of stories about the man in my day, stories that are now being repeated as fact around the world. [Well, she was IRISH you know… she must have been telling the truth.] In truth, my knowledge was limited to shamrocks and the Holy Trinity and casting snakes out of Ireland.

IMG_9420 (800x600)Late last year, thanks to a serendipitous combination of invitation, situation, and cooperation, I found myself in Co. Down, sitting in a church that was built on the very site that St Patrick is said to have died. As I listened to the unfamiliar hymns and anxiously wondered when I should sit, stand, and kneel, I reminded myself that there was a time in Ireland when, as  a Roman Catholic, I would have had to seek permission from the Bishop to enter this church. Thank God we’ve seen the light.

The name Saul comes from the gaelic Sabhall Phádraig, which literally translates to Patrick’s barn. Here, in this particular corner of Northern Ireland, about  two miles east of Downpatrick, was where St Patrick is said to have built his first church. Way back in 432, when his boat was swept ashore where the River Slaney enters Strangford Lough, he was met by the local chieftan. Such were Patrick’s powers of persuasion, that Dichu, the chieftan, was converted to Christianity as soon as he could say Amen. And, as a new convert, bestowed on Patrick  a barn at Saul from which he could preach. Legend has it that it was in Saul, on 17 March back in 461 that Patrick died.

IMG_9454 (800x595) (800x595)IMG_9448 (600x800)The beautiful stone church that stands there today, complete with a replica round tower, is a place that begs quiet contemplation.

Its simplicity was a stark reminder of when Christianity first came to Ireland and the limits St Patrick faced in his drive to convert the nation. No fancy churches or ornate walls. No gold-leaf trim or brass candlesticks. No priceless works of art. Nothing but  a barn.

IMG_9439 (600x800)I was a tad surprised to find how peaceful it was to be in a church where nothing competed for my attention. Stone walls and a single stained glass window were the height of the decoration, apart from the Christmas holly and such that sat quietly on the window sills. Perhaps because the congregation was so small in comparison to the city churches I’m used to, or perhaps because this particular congregation was so welcoming, it was the first time in a long time that I actually recognised the embodiment of Christianity. I’m sure the parishioners of Saul are far from perfect; they are human after all. Yet there was something very special about it all.

IMG_9434 (600x800)After the christening, we wandered the grounds, looked out over the hills and mountains in the distance. Close by, on Slieve Patrick,  the giant statue of St Patrick beckoned but we didn’t have the footwear (or the inclination, if truth be told) to go see the bronze plaques that bear testimony to his life in Ireland.

In the shadow of the church, a number of aged gravestones told the stories of those who, like Patrick, also died away from home. Old stone ruins stood in silent memory of times gone by. No matter their religion, I doubt anyone couldn’t help but feel the sanctity of the place. IMG_9463 (800x600)A little abashed at the fact that despite being Irish through and through, I had never heard of Saul before the invitation came to Finn’s christening, I decided to follow the trail and visit Downpatrick to say a quick one by St Patrick’s grave. [I was blessed that I was in the company of a very patient compatriot who shared my curiosity – graveyards aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.] But more about that later.

2013 Grateful 9

There’s a chap who is a regular at the 6pm mass I go to on Sundays. He seems a little out of step with the rest of the world. When he comes in, always late, he does a full reconnaissance of the church before carefully choosing his seat. Then mid-way through mass, he gets up and moves somewhere else. And he might move a third or fourth time, too. When the rest of us sit, he stands; when we kneel, he sits. Whatever tune is playing in his head is not the one the rest of us are listening to.

This evening, he went to the top of the church and sat in the second row. When it came to passing the collection plate, he was first in line. The collector asked him to help out as his No. 2 hadn’t showed. My chap was a little stunned at first but  as this interaction played out in front of me I could see his face change from fear, to surprise, to sheer joy.

He carefully watched what the other collector was doing and mirrored it. I know I’m given to flights of fancy, but I swear that by the time he finished his rounds, he’d grown an inch or two. He was standing tall and proud and so happy that he’d been asked to do something and not, as I suspect, passed over as usual.

I had a conversation this weekend over lunch with the lovelies where we talked about asking people to do things. I was reminded of the wise words of a very wise woman – if you’ve never heard my no, you can’t appreciate my yes. All too often we don’t ask someone to do something because we think (a) they don’t have time, (b) they will say yes, even though they want to say no, or (c) they’re simply not capable. And while we’re perfectly within our rights to decide whom to ask to do what, when we make those decisions are we depriving them of an opportunity of sorts? Perhaps they (a) need encouragement to better manage their time, (b) need practice in saying no, or (c) need the chance to show themselves (and others) that yes, they can.

Trust me. Ask me. Let me decide. And then accept my answer for what it is.

20131103_105519_resizedIt’s been a long week, but a good one. I’ve had the chance to show the AussieMayos some of my city and in doing so get to see it through a new set of lenses. I’ve happened across the strange and the peculiar and sat in silent wonder watching serendipity at work. But more than anything else, as it comes to a close, I’m grateful for the daily reminders that life offers that neither people nor circumstance should be taken for granted.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52


Grateful 21

I had a birthday last week. Another one. They seem to come around with increasing regularity. But as I’m firmly stuck on 36, they’ve long since lost their hold on me. Gone are the days when I’d spend the weeks leading up to my birthday contemplating all I didn’t do that year, berating myself for not being more… well…  something, and bemoaning the fact that I was one year closer to maturity without the associated trappings: house, car, husband, kids.

These days, it’s more about chalking one up to success. A retrospective of this last year gets an 8/10 from my inner jury. On the plus side, I’ve travelled, been involved in interesting work projects, met some fascinating people, read some great books, discovered new corners of Budapest. I’ve entertained and been entertained. I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried. And I’ve finally put handles on my doors. On the minus side, I’ve put on a few pounds, been scammed, not been too healthy, and lost a very dear friend.

This year, I was in Palm Springs on my birthday with the lovely DL-W and VB. We’re three Chinese horses – not quite three generations but close enough. On the actual day, I gave a talk at D’s church. Another retrospective – this time of travel and tolerance. The community was open, friendly, and very welcoming. The discussion afterwards was insightful and thought-provoking. It gave me hope. Hope that we might actually learn to live with one another, without judging.

This week, I’m grateful for shared experiences, for having the chance to travel, and for having opportunities to meet new people. I’m grateful for simply being alive.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 32

I was in Ireland last weekend for a First Communion. My nephew’s. The style was something to behold. Young girls dressed up to the nines, complete with parasols. Young lads in three-piece suits and flash ties, hands in pockets, doing great imitations of their dads. Mums in high heels, calves stretching under the strain. Dads in the open-necked casual Miami Vice look. A regular fashion show in which the First Communion took a meagre second place.

I’ve been told that I’m a ‘pick’n’mix’ Catholic – one who chooses which part of Roman Catholicism suits me – and which I’d sooner leave alone. I don’t agree with the Church’s stance on homosexuality. I don’t think that a Church, which was ultimately fashioned by man, should be so exclusive. My God doesn’t pick and choose who should be let in. I have similar problems with the Vatican having so much money when its people around the world are wondering where their next meal comes from. My God encourages sharing of wealth rather than hording. I am a practising Catholic insofar as I go to Mass every Sunday and on the few holy days that haven’t been moved to Sundays for the general convenience of a busy public. It doesn’t matter than I don’t understand the sermon – I know the prayers by heart – and it’s a rare priest these days that has something to say worth listening to. But my week is simply not the same if I miss Mass.

In the church, the kids were very well behaved. It was their big day. It was the parents who showed a complete lack of reverance, treating the occasion like a family reunion. In the line to receive Communion, two dads were laughing out loud discussing at full volume whether hands should go right over left or left over right. Then one said with some authority: right over left because everyone knows that Jesus was left-handed – it’s written in the bible. No silence. No solemnity. No sacrament. No clue what was going on. Most probably hadn’t been in a church since they were married.

My parents say the rosary every night. When I’m home, I say it, too. And I know that I am the last of that particular generation. I’ve been brought up in the Catholic church with a set a principles and values that have been instilled in me over the years – not by lecture but by example. Some I never really owned; others are very much a part of who I am.

This week, I am grateful for how my parents reared me – for their example, their respect, and their unfailing faith in God and in me.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52