Tag Archives: story
Deep in the skin that I live
Of a thousand tales and a million whispers
Like autumn’s oak on western hills
Olive soaked to save winter’s scourge
Then to glitter in summer’s heat
Deep in the skin that I live
Flows the blood of slavery
And so too the blood of its slave master
Marked by David’s star
And so too the desert’s cross and crescent
Deep in the skin that I live
Throbs the Celtic cross and the cross of George
A thousand generations gone past
A million rejections of enigma’s tale
Led to streams, but stopped from drinking
Deep in the skin that I live
I catch that look again. That curious look, that stupid
Wrapped in subtle nuance. Prepared, well served
That forbidden question: where are you from?
That cold reluctant handshake,
The sudden silence. Distance. No reply
Deep in the skin that I live
Stranger in my fatherland
Alien in my mother’s house
You can run a bit fast, jump a bit high:
Spring rains and washes all away
Deep in the skin that I live
Curled within, locked in, stained outside
The silent scream heard only by silence
Strolls had with pain and frustration
Cards played with insomnia in vain
Tick, and tock, and tick
Let the clock, clock into day
Deep in this skin that I live
A skin that dares dream of tomorrow
And when tomorrow comes
This skin only hopes cynicism never fathers
Most readers will not have heard of the twin villages, Belcoo to the North, Blacklion to the South, of a river bridge across the Irish border. The river joins the two Loughs, or Lakes MacNean. Once upon a time I was a student in Blacklion, and each week went to the village school at Brocagh, a good walk from the college, to give the youngsters a catechism lesson.
Sometime around 1970 the little 2 classroom schools were closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. In 2011 I shared this photograph of the school on thepelicans.org.uk website, and it was from Belcoo that Olivia O’Dolan identified many of the children, helped by Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady-Keaney and Bridget Brady-Fitzpatrick with Ben McHugh and the Clancy family. Olivia and her family live in the old station house seen at the top of this post. Life goes on; at times it’s almost as if the border did not exist. These children’s cousins will have lived north and south, and things have been so much better in recent years; pray that life doesn’t deteriorate post-Brexit.
Mrs McCormack, the head teacher, (far right) gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row, hand to his brow.
One week after Easter we had John’s story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith. I thought the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.
What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.
Saint Carthage, whose day it is today, is also known as Mochuda. He was a humble swineherd from what is now County Kerry and after joining a monastery he was ordained a priest. His life is marked by a series of phases where he established churches and places of worship and pilgrimage only to be turned out after making successes of his endeavours. His demise each time was due to the jealousy of others. But he picked himself up, moved on and succeeded again someplace else and in doing so left a trail of churches and holy places. How often does God use the negativity of others to bring into fruition His plans for us.
As a Tertiary Franciscan I have been enamoured of the stories of the early Franciscan friars whose lives are detailed in the book called, Il Fioretti, or the Little Flowers of St. Francis. Often they were despised and accused of many things but Francis taught them that from such condemnation is perfect joy. Our natural instincts when we are criticised or gossiped about is to react and feel negativity in return. Yet by changing our reactive attitude and transforming it into a force for good we can transcend and so continue with greater energy our journey in Christ. After all, Jesus was the most perfect Son of God and did he escape jealousy and envy? Not a bit. In fact His essential truth and reality in Almighty God polarised, very quickly, all those he came into contact with.
So along with Mochuda and with Christ, let us take heart and be encouraged by any darkness of spirit from others and rejoice, for it is by these things we are marked as servants of God. And we may, just by our attitude, allow others who fear to become a little more positive themselves.
I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.
When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s picture book about the Rhine, a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?
Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?
The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.
In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.
And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.
‘T’ and the Chihuahuas continued to listen raptly to bits and pieces of the story of the Lady Domneva and her dik-dik and, in doing so, were transported back to the vanished world of the wild and woolly seventh century.
It seemed that every monastic foundation required a kind of demesne, or endowment; enough land to ensure peace and quiet and also to raise some hard cash for bee’s wax candles, mason’s wages for the carving, and subsequent maintenance, of gargoyles and stone arabesques, lentils for the nun’s soup, ducks for their eggs and down to stuff the duvets in the guest quarters (the nuns themselves, having taken a vow of poverty, did not use duvets), some cattle for Feast days (as well as a sip of wine) and parchment, and, of course, lots and lots of sheep for lamb chops, mutton stew and wool to make their distinctive black habits (not to mention a large quantity of the rare and expensive beetle carapace used to make the dye). Well, let it simply be said that running a large monastic foundation could be expensive. Land was also needed for orchards of apples, pears, and apricots, wild flowers, and the oddly placed fisherman’s cot. In fact, back in the seventh century, as feudalism came into its first virile wind, well, land meant just about everything.
The Kentish king, encamped with his vast court on the site of the future monastery, was both vexed and perplexed. Since the king was new at founding monasteries, he wasn’t quite sure how much land might be required and the Lady Domneva was also of little help since she had only been a nun for a very short time. It was then that one of the scullery people, noticing the frisk of the Lady’s dik-dik on a particularly cold day, came up with an idea that delighted everyone.
‘Why not leave it up to God?’ the young maid said, rather enigmatically. And when all agreed that that must be a fine idea…another question immediately sprang forward – ‘but how?’ It was then that a wizened hermit emerged from a nearby wood and, approaching the diminutive dik-dik, began to stroke the lovely creature while spoon feeding it some black currant jam. In tones of deepest respect, he asked a beaming Lady Domneva if the tiny deer-like creature had a name. ‘Indeed, he does,’ she cooed, ‘Boanerges.’ And at the sound of his name the tiny dik-dik licked a spot of jam from his nose and rolled a triple somersault on the emerald lawn to everyone’s delight. ‘Surely,’ the hermit intoned, ‘God can speak through a Son of Thunder?’ And, so, it came to be.
The little dik-dik ran and ran…and ran. Throughout the Isle of Thanet from dawn until dusk. The brisk, late-November chill served as both motivation…and inspiration…as the near-magical creature raced the howling east wind. By royal decree, everywhere it traversed would become the endowment of the monastery and, some say, that if it hadn’t been for the watery barrier of the mighty Wansum, well, the dik-dik might have galloped all the way to Scotland.
Our lives are short. When they end, does a door simply close, or do our gifts, lovingly shared, also leave a trace of our passing? The name ’Swanston’ above this tutor’s office in Eliot College, of the University of Kent, quietly commemorates Hamish Swanston, a previous staff lecturer. He was the first Roman Catholic professor in an English university since the Reformation.
A number of Franciscan and Redemptorist students from the Franciscan Study Centre, who took degrees at the university, also took his classes. He was a splendidly energising lecturer, always keen to celebrate life’s varied potential. His approach to theology embraced poetry, music, drama and all sorts of story-telling.
Acts of the Apostles played a key role in his understanding of the mission-minded character of Christianity’s liturgical communities. Those willing to be launched on a transforming path in their lives can take a great deal of encouragement from his books, even long after his death in 2013. Titles such as The Kings and the Covenant, A Language for Madness and Handel provide a sparkling adventure for believers, inner journeys whereby they may learn to achieve far more creative uses of the gifts of the Spirit of God in their relationships.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16
He saw the early creeds, which were hymns such as 1 Timothy 3:16, as intended to stir the heart, to make people plunge into God. Mercy could then reach them in their many shocks and terrors. A community of friendships could lead them back from their insanity.
The three agents from the distant Ossyrian Confederation- one disguised as a middle-aged human and the others as a pair of frisky young Chihuahuas- had chosen an animal shelter near the Kentish seaside town of Margate as a likely locale for initiating their crucial research into the nature of that peculiarly human virtue of hope. That first foray had seemed to be an unmitigated disaster as a maddened Mastiff had shunted any semblance of virtue aside in a slobbering attempt to maul the diminutive Alfie who, though standing his ground (he knew perfectly well that the mesh separating him from the Mastiff was sound), nevertheless returned the insults of barked violence in an angry cacophony that would soon have had all three Ossyrian agents escorted to the nearest exit.
Just as all had seemed lost, Alfie’s wing man (wing dog??) Ajax focused the disheartened group’s attention in a different direction. ‘Look over there!’ he signalled, and – moving out of sight of the doomed Mastiff – the group quietly approached the object of Ajax’s sudden interest.
The elderly woman bore all of the signs of a human at the far end of a difficult life. Dishevelled white hair, sallow complexion over deep crevices etched by relentless work, worry, loneliness, and a multitude of ‘aches and pains’, along with a musty unwashed smell readily apparent to the dogs; all mumbled the same tale of poverty and neglect. ‘She’s been with us for nearly a year,’ the bright-eyed shelter employee said as he opened the door of an enclosure reeking with the smell of fresh antiseptic, ‘and soon, I’m afraid…she’ll have to be put down.’
Ignoring him, the woman stepped inside and paused, gazing at the small cross-breed cowering in a corner, visibly shaking with anxiety. ‘Be careful, ma’am! She’s been known to bite.’ The woman chose to ignore the warning and approached the small dog before pausing, once again, only a few feet before the terrified creature. Not much to recommend yourself, she thought wryly…and it was true. Though kept clean by the kindly employees of the shelter, the cross-breed’s face was disfigured by a pronounced under-bite and her matted grey fur was mottled by what appeared to be bald spots of angry scar tissue.
Noting the woman’s interest, the employee sadly explained, ‘This poor little lady was seriously abused by her first owner; all over now, but those scars you see, well, they go pretty deep…if you know what I mean?’ Oh! I do…I do know what you mean… the woman sighed and, scooping up the ravaged mongrel, ignored the sharp nip to her forearm as she enveloped it in a deep embrace, lightly stroking its mottled pelt.
To the stunned amazement and utter delight of the employees at the animal shelter the adoption of the mongrel, who would proudly respond to the name ‘Mitzi’ for the rest of her life, proceeded smoothly. As she and her new owner were escorted to the shelter’s exit and handed the complementary packet of doggie necessities many of the carers had tears in their eyes but others were smiling…
+ + +
Awaiting the fish and chips – but sans dogs. NAIB
The three Ossyrian agents sat in reflective silence; each savouring the delightful taste of his fish and chips eaten outdoors with a view of Margate’s small harbour. ‘Batter loaded with calories, enough hydrogenated fat in the oil to block the Canterbury Road, and salt on the chips to send one’s blood pressure off the chart…but oh so goooooooood!’ Alfie chirped. The others merely smacked their lips in hearty agreement; Ossyrian cuisine had nothing on this!
‘T’? Something really important happened this morning at the animal shelter…but I’m not sure what it was…’ Ajax’s honest confusion had, at first, been shared by all and the lunchtime debriefing had been punctuated by long, if thoughtful, silences. ‘I think…I think I’m beginning to understand,’ ‘T’ signalled, ‘though I have only read of it in terrestrial books as what just occurred would have been impossible in the home world.’ ‘What is it?’ Alfie’s expressive ears trembled with anticipation even though the conversation was entirely telepathic.
‘See,’ ‘T’ began, ‘in the Confederation there is no injustice and almost no suffering. When suffering is encountered it is simply cured, as if it were a kind of medical condition, and that is the way it has been for many thousands of revolutions around the inner sun.’ He sighed, ‘There is nothing wrong with that…but here…here suffering is a very real thing and must be dealt with…or not.’ Remembering the tragic Mastiff, the two Chihuahuas glanced knowingly at each other as ‘T’ continued, ‘The old woman and Mitzi the cross-breed mongrel had each suffered and each recognized a kinship in the other. Denial would have resulted in judgement and judgement in alienation leading to rejection…and further suffering. But the woman had learned a marvellous lesson! Suffering can also function as a kind of doorway…a doorway, which, when passed through in the company of another, leads to a bright kind of love forged in fearless, though tender, knowing. The humans had to invent a special word for this that is, at the same time the highest and the lowest of all of the many types of love. It is called compassion and where this type of love exists nothing is ever able to undermine, much less extinguish, hope…because compassion flourishes precisely in that place where hope had previously seemed impossible.’
The Chihuahuas, having swallowed the last few chips and licked the last bit of salt and oil from the throw-away Styrofoam plates, nodded their dawning understanding; suddenly slightly envious of the tear glinting in the corner of ‘T’s eye.
(to be continued)
‘My esteemed colleagues,’ the Director’s tone held all of the stilted pomposity, promising a dull time indeed, that much of Ossyrian formal conversation was famous for. His opening remark, however, told a very different story, ‘the hugely expensive mission to Earth, assiduously prepared for over several circumnavigations of the inner sun, was…a dismal failure.’ The assembled party of formerly grinning astronauts greeted the statement with stony silence. No one, of course, was fearful of any personal criticism; a social taboo of immense strength, to single out another in Ossyrian society in order to voice anything crude or unpleasant was simply unthinkable. But there was more than one way to make the point.
Without mentioning any names, either corporate or personal, the Director continued, ‘The inhabitants of the planet called Earth – as noted from intercepted radio and video broadcasts – had seemed to possess a quality of vitality, of humour, of irrepressible energy and a boundless measure of what the philosophers mysteriously define as hope that was deemed essential for further study.’ The silence grew ever more uncomfortable. ‘This mandate – to discover hope’s source and catalogue its manifestations – seems to have been side-tracked by other considerations.’ No one needed to be told what those ‘other considerations’ had been and, even if they had, words like ‘patronising’, ‘arrogant’, and even ‘cowardly’ had long ago vanished from the Ossyrian language and only existed in dusty volumes of literature often recorded in an archaic digital script that only a few could read.
‘Sir,’ Droghmirrxz timidly spoke up, ‘I…I would like to volunteer for a return mission, one that will not fail!’ ‘So would I, sir,’ Bogmerlg added and, as the Director nodded assent, even indicating that he would also personally accompany them on the new outreach to Earth, the two old friends broke into broad smiles, restoring the harmonious balance of the Xgi in the hitherto tense conference room, to everyone’s evident relief.
The location selected for the new mission was a sleazy East Kentish beach town in the grip of an endless economic recession, not far from the original site at Canterbury, called Margate. The place had definitely known better days and a splash of crumbling grandeur bore eloquent, if melancholic, testimony to happier, more prosperous times. The Council was dominated by a racist/isolationist party called UKIP, though the great mass of (non-voting) inhabitants of the medium sized municipality seemed to possess every shade of skin colour and speak half of the languages known to the human race. Vitality was clearly had in abundance; the kind celebrated throughout human history, though all too often in retrospect – of hard scrabble, elbow rubbing diversity and an irrepressible hope that things could only get better. A perfect place for the newly launched Ossyrian study!
The Director and his two subordinates were safely beamed into a pre-rented flat directly across the street from the sea that would serve as field HDQ for the duration of the mission. The boss had cleverly assumed human form and passed as a tall male with scruffy beard, salt and pepper hair, and glasses, known simply as ‘T’. His cover was as an academic at some nameless school several miles away. Bogmerlg and Droghmirrxz reassumed canine disguises, this time as a frisky pair of Chihuahuas; Droghmirrxz, as team captain, became the dominant male; a black, white and russet tricolour with adorable ‘racoon’ mask called Alfie, while Bogmerlg, as second, became the beta male – white with brown spots called Ajax. When all was organised to ‘T’s satisfaction, some possible courses of initial action (and encounter!) were explored.
+ + +
The animal shelter had, at first, seemed an odd choice as the locale of the initial foray into human society. It was, after all, an animal shelter…but as Alfie had wisely pointed out, the place was run by and for humans and the fact that it was filled with abandoned and often abused former pets and half-feral strays made it a sure-fire litmus against which the virtue of hope might be tested (and possibly discredited). ‘T’ had arranged for the two Chihuahuas to accompany him inside the shelter in order, as he put it, ‘to see if they would get along with a possible new addition to the pack.’
‘This places sure stinks!’ Ajax crinkled his nose, reacting to the potent mix of caustic disinfectant, musky fur, urine and excrement, processed animal food…and fear. The three Ossyrian agents, appearing as a human male accompanied by two Chihuahuas, were, of course, able to communicate telepathically, thus preserving the integrity of their respective disguises. ‘And it’s kind of scary and…depressing,’ Ajax’s tail dipped to half-mast as his courage wavered. ‘Oh, stop being…’ Alfie’s pert rebuke (unthinkable if they had been back on the home world) was interrupted by a roar of canine rage as a huge Mastiff, reddened eyes glinting with only a shred of sanity, threw itself against the mesh of its enclosure in an attempt to maul the tiny Chihuahua. Alfie, with hackles raised, threw it all back at the bucking Mastiff (safe in the knowledge that the enclosure was sturdily built) and returned the abuse bark for bark. ‘So much for the practice of virtue,’ ‘T’ communicated with disgust. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’ ‘Wait!!!’ Ajax was humming with barely repressed excitement, ‘Look over there!’
(to be continued)
I just found a passage that sums up why stories like David’s are so valuable. It comes at the end of a story told by Ali Smith, The Third Person:
The third person is another pair of eyes. The third person is a presentiment of God. The third person is a way to tell a story. The third person is a revitalisation of the dead.
It’s a theatre of living people…
It’s a box for the endless music that’s there between people, waiting to be played.
Ali Smith The First Person and Other Stories: London, Hamish Hamilton, 2008.
Endless Music, maybe waiting for you to play it. Enjoy looking through David’s – or his protagonists’ eyes! Enjoy Ali Smith’s stories – and all the others – as well; let their ‘presentiments of God’ revitalise a deadened corner of your heart.
And look out this coming week for Tom’s continuation of David’s SciFi story as those Chihuahuas return to Kent!