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2015 Grateful 47

I’m late this week. Not like me at all. Truth be told, I’m in such bad form that I’m struggling to find anything to be grateful for. I had a manic week in Malta with early starts and late evenings and lots of meetings, workshops, and conversations that required energy – far more energy than I had to give.

I came home to my newly painted flat to find that the colours I had in my head didn’t quite make it on to the walls. Add this to the stark realisation that it’s going to take a while to hang my pictures and find that mirror and sort out my crap and the impatience in me bubbles to the surface creating an angst that I don’t need right now.

And I brought back a chest cold that is morphing into a head cold and making me miserable.

I’m in the middle of a two-day workshop and although it’s the last place I want to be (my bed is much more appealing) faking it is all part and parcel of being front and centre. While every bone in my body aches and my head is thumping and my chest sounds like I’ve been on sixty a day for forty years, none of that can show.

It’s one of the most asked questions regarding public speaking – what do you do when you so don’t want to get on stage but you have to? How do you overcome whatever ails you?

egoI stammer. Some days I can’t say my own name. When I make a restaurant reservation, I use the name Ann Clarke. And over the years, Ann Clarke has become my alter ego. When Mary Murphy can’t be arsed or feels miserable or would rather darn socks and sort spices then face a public, Ann Clarke comes to the rescue. Because her life is so compartmentalised and because she doesn’t get out all that often, any excuse to appear in public is a relief, something she welcomes, craves even. In my mind’s eye, she’s taller, thinner, with short blonde hair and ankles. And she has a slight American twang. She’s never phased; nothing gets to her. She runs her world with a military-like precision that is coupled with just the right amount of humanity to ensure that she treats everyone equally and is never taken advantage of.

There you have it! This week, I’m grateful for Ann Clarke  and the number of times she has come to my rescue. May she live long and prosper.

2014 Grateful 52

Two years into my weekly grateful blogs, I’ve decided it’s worth doing for yet another 52 weeks. We have so much in life to be grateful for and we don’t take nearly enough time to express that gratitude, be it to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, to our colleagues, or to our God. Even perfect strangers could do with a little thanks.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that this apparently lack of gratefulness stems not from any innate sense of ingratitude but is more to do with what we perceive as a lack of time. We’re simply too busy doing, thinking, and planning to pause for the few seconds it takes to verbalise that gratitude, or write that email, or send that text, or make that phone call. Who amongst us wouldn’t appreciate a Thank You card  every now and then for something we’ve done. Okay, so many of us would probably pooh pooh it, with an ‘ah schucks, it was nothing’ but the recognition would stick regardless and might even prompt us to do something nice again, sooner than we might otherwise have done.

There is nothing worse that being thanked with cards and presents for every little thing we do… to me, that’s the same as a constant ‘I love you’… when we hear it so often, it tends to lose its meaning. And yes, there’s a fine line between too often and not often enough but I’m sure that more scientific minds than mine could come up with an equation that would quickly sort that out. Good manners though would dictate that a courteous ‘thank you’ be a habit, right alongside its sister ‘please’.

Gratitude should be mindful. And the magic of being grateful for the little things in life is that it does work – it makes the world a better place – it’s made my world a better place these past couple of years. Think pebble, pond, ripple effect.

Our actions speak volumes for who we are. People notice. And if they like what they see, they imitate. Likewise, the thoughts we express also reflect who we are. We can never know when a throwaway comment can ruin us or make us or worse still, ruin or make an innocent third party. I know I’ve lost a few friends and acquaintances over comments I’ve made that have been repeated out of context and indeed misunderstood in context – and that’s all part and parcel of living. But if the string we use to wrap our lives is one coated in sincerity and honesty and good intentions, then how much better the world might be.

If we start with being grateful for the little things, then better things start to happen and pretty soon we find we’re being grateful for big things, too. We begin to reshape our world by actively engaging with it. Life is a choice. We can choose how we react to gossip, to bad news, to the opinions of others. We can choose to get even or to let go. We can choose to forgive and try to forget or to bear a grudge and let it eat away inside us. We can choose to be grateful or to take for granted all that life can offer.

Each night, I try to think of ten things that I’m grateful for that happened today. It’s better than counting sheep. Often I don’t make it to No. 5. Or get sidetracked on No. 2. It’s usually silly stuff like the tram coming just as I arrived at the stop, or the first shop I went to having the one ingredient I needed, or noticing that the bath was about to run over before the first drop of water spilled on to the floor. This has developed into a conscious habit that has made me a lot more aware of what’s happening in the world around me and a lot more engaged with my life and how I choose to live it.

My challenge to you for 2014 is to express that gratitude. If someone has made a difference or is making a difference in your life, tell them. If you get good service, acknowledge it. If someone holds open the door for you, say thanks before walking through it. Being grateful costs nothing, but to put a value on gratitude is nigh on impossible.

As the first week of the New Year draws to a close, I’m grateful that I got to spend so much of it walking beaches, in the freezing cold, getting soaked by waves. I’m grateful for feeling so alive.

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2013 Grateful 1

It’s hard to believe that yet another year has passed. This is the last of 52 posts in the Grateful 2013 series, an idea inspired by the inimitable BMcD a couple of years ago. Had you told me then, Biddy, how much my life would have changed as a result, I’d probably have laughed in something approaching a quiet disbelief.

I’ve waded through shelves of self-help books in my time and recognised a common thread in the importance of giving thanks, of being grateful. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical when it came to believing that the more I give thanks, the more the universe responds. But now, two years later, I am living testimony to the fact that it does work. Life is good – damn good.

This year has been one filled with old friends, new friends, old new friends, and new old friends. To all of you who have touched my life, no matter how tangentially, thank you. You may never know the difference you have made. Even those nasty encounters with meanness and pettiness served as a stark contrast to the kindness and support that was much more visible and as a reminder of all that is good about human nature.

I thought I’d wrap up this year by sharing some quotations – words of others who have so beautifully captured my wish for you all in 2014:

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.Epicurus

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.Ralph Waldo Emerson

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.Eckhart Tolle

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.

Boldog újevet.

 

 

2013 Grateful 16

‘The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the miraculous also.’ Perhaps Dostoyevsky was on to something… why does the world find it so hard to believe in miracles?

Miracles and the miraculous come hand in hand with being Catholic. I grew up draped in miraculous medals, believing in miraculous cures. Einstein reckoned there are two ways to live a life: One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I lean towards the latter. And my miracles have all been pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things, but happen they have and happen they do, even if I sometimes take them for granted.

Witness_3dI was reminded of this lately when working on a translation from the Polish – a beautiful book with photographs by Janusz Rosikon and text by Grzegorz Górny. I’ve known Janusz since 2007 and have had the pleasure of working on a number of titles with him. I’m a great fan of his photography, an admirer of his faith, and while we might agree to disagree on politics, I have a lot of time for him and what he does. I met Grzegorz for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was suitably impressed. It’s easy to see why they work so well together – both similar yet different, complementary yet individual – a good team. And it’s always nice to meet the voice behind the words, particularly when those words actually say something.

In Witnesses to Mystery, the pair delve deep into the relics of Jesus Christ, asking the time-old question that every believer and non-believer alike must have asked themselves at one stage – Are they real? Could they be real? They travelled the world over, discovering along the way that these relics were attracting attention not just from Christian pilgrims but also from academics: historians, archaeologists, philologists, anthropologists, paleographers, chemists, physicists, anatomists…all curious to prove one way or another whether the relics on display in various churches from Krakow to Rome are genuine.

Relics were two a penny in the Middle Ages when myriad fakes were sold to those who needed something to believe in. And as the author wonders – Does not the presence of numerous forgeries, however, suggest the existence of an original? Are mass reproductions evidence of attempts at imitating a genuine relic? The term simulacrum in postmodernist use indicates a copy without an original. Could Christ’s relics be regarded as simulacra, as reproductions of things that don’t exist? Or are they in fact real objects, with which Jesus of Nazareth once had contact? – hundreds of thousands of believers regularly turn out to see relics on display around the world  and the faith of millions is vested in touching something that Jesus Himself is thought to have touched. The Shroud of Turin is on my bucket list and I still remember the feeling I had when I got to touch Padre Pio’s glove. I’m a believer.

I have long debates with two friends in particular about religion: one is a scientist, the other a realist; neither lay claim to having faith in a god. And the argument always falls back on me saying ‘I don’t need to know; it’s enough to believe.’ For many this is a cop-out and to each their own. I believe in God – a God independent of any man-made religion – and He and I have a good thing going. It works for me.

So perhaps, in my case, the boys were preaching to the choir – I didn’t need much convincing. And although I knew about the Shroud of Turin, and the Longinus Spear, and the Veil of Manoppello, I found myself turning each page with a growing interest in what the scientists discovered when they ran their tests, a mounting curiosity about what the various expert investigative teams found when they crunched their numbers. And as one chapter led seamlessly into another, I became more and more convinced that faith is about believing. That some things are beyond explanation. And that just because we can’t explain them, that doesn’t mean they are any less real.

It’s a beautiful book that transcends belief and asks questions that sometimes cannot be answered. The photographs are stunning, the text insightful, and the overall effect leaves a lasting impression.

This week, after relocating my ‘office’ temporarily to Croatia, I’m grateful that not alone can I work from anywhere with an Internet connection, what I do is interesting and varied. I get to work my own hours, to travel, to meet people like Janusz and Grzegorz and to work on projects like Witnesses. And it pays the bills! Now, if that’s not a minor miracle…

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

2013 Grateful 20

There’s a house across the road from us at home that I’ve coveted for years. As kids, me and my mate would sneak in the back, through the fields, and try to get as close to it as possible before the caretaker caught us and frog-marched us home to whatever punishment awaited us as repeat offenders. We never learned. It was a place of intrigue, somewhere forbidden.

IMG_7286 (800x600)In 1917 it was used as a military hospital to treat the wounded from WWI. In 1928 it became a TB sanatorium where those with the dreaded affliction also known as the white plague and consumption came to enjoy the restorative fresh air of the countryside and ultimately meet their death. It is said that the mortality rate in Firmount House in the 1920s and 1930s was 100%. One former nurse, still living, said recently that in the 1950s, with the cure for TB discovered, things got better and they only lost, say, one patient a week.

As kids, we knew that the place had been a sanatorium for those with tuberculosis. But instead of making it less appealing for our adventurous forays, it drew use closer. Death was just one of those things that happen, eventually, to us all. And whether we go of TB or cancer or in a car accident or in our sleep, it is inevitable. I knew enough, even then, to know that there are worse things than death and for many it can come as a blessed relief.

IMG_7280 (800x600)The house was taken over by the Department of Defense in 1964. Watching members of the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, as the Army Reserves were known back then) walking up the road on their way to the village became a hobby. Like the house itself, they, too, were exotic.

I’ve always wanted to see inside and this weekend, I had my chance. The local history group was giving a talk and I went along to see what I’d missed in not buying the place when it was on the market (it went for 250k and while I might have scraped together a deposit, the renovation costs would have needed a lotto win).

For years and years and years I’ve wanted to live there, to look out those windows onto the fields and hills and to enjoy the relative seclusion offered by the long avenue leading up to the house. And I never once thought of the hundreds who had died there over the years from TB. I was gutted when I heard it had finally sold and my plans to turn it into an artists’ retreat or a shelter for victims of domestic violence went with it (a big difference I know – but them’s the swings and roundabouts my dreams enjoy).

This week, I’m grateful, in a weird way, that the house has sold and that that particular dream has vaporised. One fewer focal points might narrow my choices a little and render decisions about the future a little easier. And, with due consideration for the TB patients of old, I’m extremely grateful to be healthy.

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

2013 Grateful 25

Bleak. Barren. Beautiful. It’s hard to describe the scenery in New Mexico, especially as you drive towards the Arizona border and the competing beauty of the neighbouring state encroaches. Mile after mile of hills and canyons that should be alive with cowboys and Indians and homesteaders yet when we passed a ‘For Sale’ sign,we were left wondering what in God’s name anyone would do for a living out here.

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But people live here, in this heat, in this desert, and somehow manage to survive. It beggars belief. I wouldn’t last a week. Not even if James Garner, in his heyday, was the one issuing the invitation to come hither. Nor even Sam Waterston as he is right now. I can’t for the life of me imagine living a life so remote. Alaska was different. Alaska was cold.

IMG_5976 (800x598)And yet, far from the sameness of Nebraska, around every corner there’s a new palate of colour and a new something to marvel at. And marvelling done, my mind inevitably went back to wondering why people chose to live here? Or perhaps, the better question might be why they’ve chosen not to leave?

IMG_5988 (800x600)I used to think that choosing where I lived was a given – a choice that was a divine right. But I’ve come to realise that I’m one of the fortunate ones that get to make that choice, unbridled by family ties, career ambitions, or financial constraints. That’s not to say that had I all the money in the world, I wouldn’t up sticks and head for the west coast of Ireland in a heartbeat. But usually when I move, I have a pull factor that is as great as the push factor. Driving these barren miles through the New Mexico desert and crossing over into Arizona, I had plenty of time to think about where next. And you know, while the push grows stronger with each political development in Hungary, the pull is staying remarkably silent.

IMG_5992 (800x584)Our concept of home varies. For some it’s transient, merely an address. For others it’s a gallery of collected treasures. For more it’s about people. For me, it’s a state of mind. Eight states into our eleven-state trip, I couldn’t help but marvel at the diversity of the U S of A: its scenery, its people, and its frames of mind. Heat aside, the reminder just how much control I have over my life, and where I go, and what I do, was worth every bead of sweat. And for this opportunity to reflect, I’m truly grateful.

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

2013 Grateful 27

It’s been a long time since I’ve driven so far. It’s been years since I used to drive 306 miles to play 36 holes of golf and then drive home again. Distances such as America has on offer make the longest road in Ireland look like a walk in the park.

IMG_5345 (800x599)I like to drive.

I like the meditative space it gives me. And the adrenaline rush when I spot a cop car, partially concealed behind a bush in the median. Will I get a ticket in the post or not? I wonder.

I like the weird and wonderful things I pass – odd places that I would never travel to but am happy to stop and see, now that I’ve happened across them.

I like the personal chats in roadside restaurants and cafés – conversations with people I will never meet again. Yet for a few brief moments in time, we’re present, together, talking. Sharing experiences in a way that is both intimate and remote.

I like the way my mind wanders, with one random thought fuelling an internal debate on something that could be either inconsequential or the preparatory work for a major, life-changing decision.

I like that time takes on a whole new meaning. There is no clocking in or signing out. I drive until I’m tired – some days three hours, some days eight. There is a plan  for the day but that plan is flexible, dependent on detours and distractions. I like that.

As this sweltering week draws to a close on temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius (115 F), I’m hot, I’m tired, and I’m missing my own bed. I’m grateful that as I’ve travelled and discovered new places, new people, I’ve also had the drive-time to appreciate what I’m missing. In essence – I have the best of both worlds – here and there.

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

2013 Grateful 35

A good friend of mine once told me that he envied me my faith. Another, a confirmed ‘dirt man’, thought that it must make life a little easier but wondered how I managed to be so matter-of-fact, while living in a world based not on scientific facts and figures – hard data – but on tenuous concepts and strange beliefs.

There’s a great expression used at home that has become a mantra of sorts for me – if it’s for me, it won’t pass me. End of story. Clean. Simple. Precise. What’s due to me will come to me – not necessarily on my schedule, mind you, but in the end, it’ll all work out for the best. Some might consider this trite. Others might think it  a cop-out. The very idea that each of us has a predestined life plan seems at face value to negate the concept of free will. I’ve long since given up debating the point – all I know is that faith works for me. Having faith, knowing with unqualified certainty that what is meant to be will be, believing that everything will work out for the best – call it faith, call it whatever – it works… for me.

In Latvia last week, we ventured north of Riga to the seaside town of Majori. There I saw faith of another sort – or perhaps the same, not that it matters much.

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At the site of the former Orthodox Church of the Kazan Icon, consecrated in 1896, people still lay flowers and attend ceremonies each Sunday at 4pm. This church survived two World Wars until one night, in 1962, when on orders from the state, it was bulldozed and razed to the ground.  Priests who served here included Jānis Pommers, the first saint to come from Latvia.

Though the church has been gone for longer than I’ve been alive, the congregation has kept the faith and fundraising continues to build a new church on the old site.

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To hold vigil here each Sunday in the belief that one day the building, the church, and its community will be restored… that is faith.

As antisemitism raises its ugly head in Budapest and Jews are assaulted at football matches, believing in the innate goodness of mankind takes even more so I  take heart in such acts of faith. This week, as I still feel the heartbeat from Salaspils, I am grateful, once again, for my faith; for whatever innocence or naivety that allows me to believe in the good in people and the sanctity of tomorrow.

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

2013 Grateful 41

glassI can bitch and moan with the best of them. Depending on the day that’s in it and the mood I’m in, it’s either glass half-full, glass half-empty, or simply a case of too much glass. So when a steady stream of people started commenting recently on how well I’m looking or how happy I seem or that something about me is different, the self-deprecation default switch kicks on and I find myself wondering exactly how drab and dreary I was before.

Before what, you might well ask. Not that I’m going to answer… and not out of contrariness either, mind you. It could be one of many recent changes in my life or a combination of two or three or indeed of all of them. Or it could simply be a growing understanding of just how lucky I am to be live where I live (despite the insane political situation), to work at what I do (despite the ridiculous hours I sometimes put in), and to have such a fascinating coterie of friends.

Earlier this year, in February, I went to Las Palmas.  Not from any great desire to see the place again but because I sought, paid for, and then had to listen to the advice of an astrologer. Something in my life needed to change. I needed all the help I could get and I wasn’t too particular about from whence it came! I was fortunate in that he told me that were I to present myself in Las Palmas at 8.39 pm on 2 February,  every aspect of my life would improve over the course of the next six months.

Now some I told thought me mad. For others it just confirmed the madness. For me I thought – why not! And since then, whatever the planetary alignment did to change the energy in my life, the balance has shifted and indeed, by all accounts, I’m positively glowing.

I’ve noticed a strange domino effect lately, too, whereby ye olde adage of one good turn begets another has kicked in. I was helping a mate (A) find some work using what contacts I have. And then this mate thought that they might be able to help another mate of mine (B) out in the same vein. And then it turns out that (B) was in a position to do a favour for third mate (C)… such linear synchronicity is just lovely when it happens. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a more positive frame of mind that I’m noticing these things. Or perhaps it’s because, set against the worsening political situation in Hungary (has anyone been reading the testimonies at the US Helsinki Commission’s hearing on Hungary?) these types of simple good deeds are more noticeable.

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In any event, as I sit in my hotel room in Malta, overlooking St Julian’s Bay, after yet another successful, energetic, and inspiring Modern Diplomacy Workshop (which, coincidentally, was the subject of my 2012 Grateful 41, and has forever changed the way I look at brown sugar!), I am grateful for the turn that my life has taken, for those in it (both long-term residents and those new to the world of MMMM), and for having the wherewithal to be able to do what I do and to enjoy doing it.

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

2013 Grateful 50

IMG_1521 (615x800)Driving around the biggest of the six Hawaiian islands is like reading a book of fascinating and at times, amusing, roadsigns. You’d think they’d be the same all over the world – just in a different language, but the signs on the island of Hawaii give pause for thought. In Alaska, I’ve seen signs to be aware that you might run into a moose; in Ireland, we get the occasional deer or cattle sign, but this humpback whale collision was a first for meIMG_1750 (800x582).

We’ve all seen the signs about  road debris, gravel, and possible falling rocks. But flying rocks? And a sign warning of flying rocks with an actual rock tied to it, in case there are a few disbelievers on the road? How’s that for innovation and creativity and a reason to put up your window.

IMG_1751 (600x800)I’ve seen reserved parking signs but never before come across one quite as specific as this one. When I asked whether it was meant as a joke, no one laughed. Apparently this particular part of the island – Waipi’o valley – is home to the some of the oldest families in Hawaii, many of whom are leaders and elders. Tourists, with their self-appointed righteousnesses have been known to walk straight through a Hawaiian ceremony in search of the waterfall. In showing such little regard for the how the locals live, it’s no wonder that signs such as these are dotted along the roadside. The ‘no spraying’ plea is a request to the state not to spray insecticide.

IMG_1749 (600x800)I’ve heard of rules of engagement, but rules of enjoyment? And what exactly is ‘inappropriate behavior’? Given my own prudish nature, I might be a little less tolerant than most but still, I’m curious. Surely if we have rules for enjoyment, there should also be demarcations for propriety.

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And this stop sign made me laugh out loud. It’s just outside the Parker Ranch over near Waimea. Church signs have long been a source of amusement for many across the States, and I know I’ve used some as examples of unintentional messages that appear by virtue of the absence of puncuation. But this one rings true.

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Down on Punalu’u beach, I spotted this one, written just for me. For the ten or so years I spent in the USA, I could never get the hang of my compass points. Go south on Sepulveda? Go east on 11th?  Give me right or left, straight on or back IMG_1903 (800x600)any day. On that same beach, I had to wonder at the intelligence of people using the facilities. I mean would you? Would you use shampoo so close to the ocean and the turtles? The mind boggles. Mind you, signposts that said to stay 15 feet from the turtles, writing in both English and Japanese, were also ignored. But then, not everyone has a zoom lens.

These signs though are all pretty concrete. Easy to see. Easy to read. Easy to understand. The signs that direct us through life are a little more ephemeral. A little less obvious. And all too often, they are not as easy to understand. We rely heavily on intuition  – what Einstein describes as the only real valuable thing. Ingrid Bergman suggests we  train our intution –  trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. Easier said than done, though. Alan Alda (remember him? Hawkeye from M*A*S*H?) has it sorted. He reckons that You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

Not yet fully recovered from jet lag, I’m back in Budapest. The beach has been replaced by snow. The sun has lost its heat. And I’m as tired as I have been in a long, long time. But it’s a good tiredness, a productive tiredness. My (de)fences are low, my brain is less focused on shoulds and shouldn’ts, and my intuition is taking over. This week, I’m grateful to see signs that are pointing towards some fundamental change in how I live my life. I can see them but I’ve no clue what they’re telling me. Let the year unfold and let the path reveal itself. In the meantime, I  need to unpack, do laundry, and get ready for my next venture into the wilderness.

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