Well, it’s been quite a decade. From the first iPad in 2010 to Brexit, Trump, and the Bojo phenomenon. The 2010s saw both William and Harry married off and brought a close to the Harry Potter series. Gangham became a dance thing and many people thought the world might actually end in December 2012. Same-sex marriage became legal in Ireland and the ice-bucket challenge took the world by storm. Kids ran around after Pokémon Go and women marched on Washington. We had a total eclipse, we had the Me Too movement, and a Banksy painting that self-destructed. Yes, it was quite the decade. Read more
2018 is drawing to a close. 2019 is almost upon us. Himself and the two headed over to the healing forest in Slovenia earlier this morning. I’ve stayed behind to catch up on work and meet some deadlines. Tonight we’ll sit around a table with friends and eat lamb, cooked Moroccan style. Fish and poultry will swim or fly away with our luck, so we’ll avoid those. We’ll have lentils just after midnight to make sure we’ll have luck and prosperity for the next 12 months. We might even bury a coin or two in the garden this evening and dig them up on the morrow. We already have a stalk of blessed straw from the village crib in our wallets. Superstition, I hear you say. And you’re right. But in these turbulent times, I’ll do what I can to mitigate the insanity. 2018 has shown me just how irrational the world has become, how self-centred its people are, how much we have lost sight of the bigger picture in an effort to preserve our own sliver of society. I’d like to think that 2019 will be a year of a collective awakening to what’s really important in life but I have my doubts. Something tells me that we haven’t seen the half of what’s to come.
2019 will be a tumultuous one for me. January and February are already as full as the myriad flights I’ll be on. It’s shaping up to be a year of reunions and farewells. With ageing parents and elderly friends, I’m even more conscious of the need to refocus on what’s important and not waste my time. It was a thing that age defined our departure from this world but it seems as if the resounding Irish funeral echo of ‘they were a good age’ is being replaced by ‘they were too young to go’. None of us can tell what’ll happen tomorrow. Today is all we have.
That said, I’m grateful to be in the village, my safe place where the world rights itself, surrounded by good friends. I’m grateful to have the wherewithal to dress the table and see 2018 out in style. And as we stand on the upstairs balcony at midnight, watching the fireworks go off in the villages around the Kis-Balaton, the words of John O’Donoghue’s blessing will echo in my mind.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
Happy New Year. Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. Boldog új évet.
I heard once that what you do on New Year’s Day determines what you do for the rest of the year. At 11.55 last night, I was standing on my balcony, sipping a glass of bubbly, looking into the dark. All was quiet. Even the geese. I was reminded of Pico Iyer’s piece on the Eloquent Sounds of Silence:
We have to earn silence, then, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.
Then 2017 came flooding in and the silence was shattered. The geese kicked up quite the racket down by the water and the village dogs howled at the fireworks that were going off all around the lake. I had my own private viewing point. It was pretty spectacular. No people. No crowds. Just me and the geese and the bubbly and the cold. When the fireworks stopped, the stars looked all the brighter.
Cold but happy, I went downstairs and, in true Hungarian tradition, ate a spoonful of lentil soup that I’d made earlier. This, apparently, will ensure that I have enough of everything in 2017. [Enough is a concept that is underrated. If we had more appreciation for it, we might be a lot happier.]
I fell asleep with Cormoran Strike, the detective created by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) [an excellent series, btw] and woke this morning in time for 8 am mass. Someone else was in what I’ve come to regard as my seat in the church – visiting family no doubt – and we’re not due a priest till next Sunday so it wasn’t the full Monty- but it was a lovely way to start the day.
Since then I’ve been cleaning and cooking and making beds in preparation for The Visitors who are wending their way down the north shore of the Balaton as I write. At last contact they were in Tihanyi. The table is set. The beer and wine are chilling. The fish is prepped. And the lentil soup is just waiting for its ham.
All is good in my world. My closing Grateful piece of 2016 spoke of restoration and my hope that 2017 would be a restorative one. So far it’s off to a great start. Life is good.
But in Istanbul, hundreds of people trying to make sense of more senseless deaths. In Russia, families of those lost in the plane crash on Christmas Day are in mourning. In Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, people woke up to a different sort of day. I have a blessed life and with that blessing comes a duty, an obligation, to make the most of it. And remembering to say thanks is just the start.
I started this series of blogs back in 2012. Five years later, I can’t imagine not taking the time to appreciate just how good I have it. This is how it began:
Many years ago I worked with this very bubbly young American girl whom I avoided like the plague in the mornings. I just couldn’t handle her effervescence; I liked mine soluble, in tablet form. Working late one evening, we were chatting about whatever, when she told me that every night, before she went to sleep, she tried to think of ten things that had happened that day for which she could be thankful. And some nights she fell asleep before she reached No. 10.
She challenged me to try it. I was sure that I’d have no trouble finding ten things to be thankful for. And I’ve been doing it every night for the last eight years because it keeps me focused and it keeps me positive…well, sort of positive ?
It’s way too easy to let go and submerge myself in the daily horrors of 21st century living. It’s far too convenient to spend my days worrying about global problems that I cannot hope to fix or even effect and in doing so miss out on today. It’s really not all that difficult to lose sight of what’s important – and who’s important – as I spend my time moaning about what might have been.
My nightly lists will never be published in a miscellany. David Letterman is unlikely to ask to borrow them for his Top 10. But ranging as they do from the ridiculous (I am grateful that I noticed my skirt was tucked into my tights before I walked out on to the street) to the sublime (I am grateful to Árpád at Kadarka wine bar on Kiraly utca for introducing me to Fecsegő), chalking them up each night has become a ritual and as close to meditation as I can get.
I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.
Inspired by the inimitable Biddy McD in Australia who has kept the world amused by her photo album Grateful 365 and posted a pic a day of something she and her two sons are grateful for, I’ve decided to be less adventurous but equally committed and focus each week on something I’m grateful for. Introducing Grateful 52.
Today, as 2017 gets underway, I’m grateful for gratitude and the comfort it brings.
Boldog új évet – Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh – Happy New Year
It’s hard to believe that 2013 is gone and 2014 is lining up, all guns blazing, ready to see what we’re made of. It seems like only last week that I was sitting on a beach in Hawaii ringing in 2013 with my good friends D&S. Apart from a few other adventurous souls who had braved the dark to check out the fireworks at the neighboring resorts, we had the beach to ourselves. The year that followed this relatively modest celebration was one that derailed on occasion and gave me more than a few moments of angst. Yet looking back on it, everything was as it should be and had I to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing… at least not anything that I can think of right now. What happened, happened, and all for just cause and reason.
In contrast, this week I rang in 2014 in the company of 461 others at a black-tie event in the west of Ireland. My fellow revelers, aged 18 to 80, looked to be having just as a good a time as I was. And apart from a few young ones mistaking me for their mate’s mother, and passing comments on how lovely it was to see ‘ould wans’ like us having a good time, I felt like Cinderella, with my very own Prince Charming but without the midnight curfew or pumpkin issue.
There’s something rather lovely about dressing formally – I love the whole black tie, long dress, evening gloves, and cufflinks scene. I must have lived a past life where this sort of thing was as normal as breathing. While I feel completely at home in a long dress, and know my way around the cutlery, I was a little taken aback about how uncomfortable a few of the younger people looked and behaved. Teetering on impossibly high heels, openly pulling and tugging at corsets and bras as they walked across the room, and slamming back jager bombs, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at what I see as a marked decline in something that I’m struggling to name.
It’s not quite propriety; neither is it social grace. It’s not etiquette or manners… it’s something more intangible, like … style? Yet some of them looked drop-dead gorgeous standing still and silent. But when they moved or opened their mouths, the illusion of dignity was shattered. Perhaps it’s decorum? Or plain old-fashioned self-awareness? The age spread in the room definitely heightened the contrast in behaviour and while I’m well aware that two swallows don’t make a spring, I’m still left with that feeling of loss that there’s a generation of young people out there who simply don’t know how to behave in a given situation. Does this make me old or even old-fashioned? Am I preaching? Self-righteous? Perhaps.
Anyone have a time machine handy?
We’re taught to review, to learn from our mistakes. We’re conditioned to examine what has happened, to glorify the lessons we have learned. And perhaps we spend too much time looking in the wrong direction.
December is a time of reflection; we evaluate our successes and our failures, what went right and what could have gone better. As the end of the year approaches, we fall into one of three camps: those who are happy with a year well lived and are looking forward to 2014; those who can’t wait to see the back of what has been a series of one disaster after another and are looking forward to 2014; or those who are too busy living the present to demarcate their lives into annual segments and will still be writing 2013 in March.
The papers are full of what has happened in the last twelve months. Catastrophes are being replayed. Famous births and deaths are being recounted. Milestones in sporting history are being relived. We will parse and analyse the political shenanigans of those we have elected to office. From our armchairs we will dish out our expert opinion on where exactly the world went wrong this year. And with the benefit of hindsight we might even be wishing that we had done things a little differently.
For me, the end of the year is not about reviewing what has happened to learn from my mistakes. I’ve never mastered that art – I make mistakes so that others can learn from me. It’s not about measuring my success or failure against the 12-month plan I agonised over in January because my plan has always been to have no plan. It’s not about checking my bank balance and share portfolio to see how much better (or worse) off I am this year vs last year.
For me, the end of the year is about giving thanks for all that has happened – good and bad; each tear and laugh has helped shape who I am, the person I’m born to be. It is about counting my blessings, blessings that take the shape of friends and family, kind words, good deeds, opportunities and experiences. It’s about realising that generosity of heart and spirit is the secret to a life well lived.
Let’s not overcomplicate things in our review of 2013. Let it go. And let’s keep it simple for 2014: live well, laugh often, love much.
First published in the Budapest Times 13 December 2013