This piece appears in Chicago’s ‘Irish American News’ for September, 2016.
I want to stay away from negative news this month, so let me get my disappointment with Senator Billy Lawless out of the way. Notice I say ‘disappointment’, not ‘surprise’. Once a person has become a politician they have moved beyond surprising me. Word came of his confirmation in the Sunday Business Post at the end of July that he would be claiming the full amount in expenses that he is entitled to — €29,565 – for travelling between Chicago and Ireland. Of course, this is disgusting. And of course it’s gone down like a lead balloon over here.
I didn’t expect him to travel for nothing, but yes – I think that it was hoped that he would take on some of the costs, given that these are unusual circumstances. And of course, since he’ll be claiming this obscene and ludicrous maximum, he does appear to be rubbing it in a little by saying that he’ll pay out of his own pocket for anything over thirty grand. Somehow I don’t think that we’ll EVER be going over that figure.
It is almost half his yearly wage AGAIN and is as much as many people earn in a year – for working, not sitting their asses on a plane. I guess that’s what you get when you do favours for Enda Kenny’s daughter. And please, this nonsense from the Senator that he can’t understand the fuss over the fact that he gave her a job three years ago. (“Why wouldn’t you look after a friend’s daughter if they’re coming out?”) If this guy can’t see that it looks bloody awful that you rub the Taoiseach’s back and the next thing, you find yourself in the Seanad on a REALLY nice little earner, then I don’t think that we’re going to be getting our money’s worth any time soon.
I wrote a couple of months ago that our other new Senator, Freeman — former CEO and founder of suicide prevention charity, Pieta House — was giving her ENTIRE pay back to her old charity and that she was the exception in politics. There’s very few in it because they want to help people. Very few.
If this was a wage that Senator Lawless was depending on, rather than an afterthought for his wallet, I could understand it but…no; I’ll stick with being disappointed.
Over a period of several months in 2014 and up to the summer of the following year I had a number of experiences that I was then – and still am now – unable to describe as clearly as I would like to be able to do. They were ultimately to lead to a shaking-up of my entire belief system. I tried with limited success to describe one such experience in this column last year, when I wrote:
“A while back I took a walk up to the beautiful Renville area, just three miles outside of my home in Oranmore. As I stood looking out over the water and across the bay to Ardfry House on the far side, I thought the feeling of being linked to everything would overwhelm me. It wasn’t some sort of vision or even anything that someone else might have found particularly interesting.
“It just suddenly hit me that some scenes from the film ‘The Mackintosh Man’, starring Paul Newman, had been filmed at Ardfry in 1973; that it was directed by John Huston, who kept an estate outside Craughwell, the next village up from Oranmore, for many years; that a while back I went to a special screening in Galway of his final film, ‘The Dead’, at which his daughter Anjelica gave us some wonderful reminiscences of growing up there; that Paul Newman was to later return to Ireland and do some real good through his Barretstown charity foundation…
“I felt as if it went on and on; and that if I just thrust my fingers into the soil of this land I would find connections to all parts of the world and all sorts of disparate personalities. I was left –quite literally – shaken; shaken and filled with this extraordinary feeling of happiness.
“There’s an expression from Plato that I don’t suppose has crossed my mind since schooldays: anima mundi, something like ‘the soul of the world’. I genuinely feel now that if you leave yourself open to the positive instead of endlessly dwelling on the negative, that feeling which comes is almost its own reward.”
I was frustrated then as now by my inability to communicate just what this meant to me. I’ve discovered since that I’m hardly the only person that this has happened to. There seem to be countless examples.
I was leafing through a book in a second-hand store last week when I came across a piece from a Russian mathematician called Ouspensky (about whom I knew absolutely nothing) when this jumped out at me:
“The unknown is unlike anything that we can suppose about it. The complete unexpectedness of everything that is met with these experiences, from great to small, makes the description of them difficult… First of all, everything is unified, everything is linked together, everything is explained by something else and in turn explains another thing. There is nothing separate, that is, nothing that can be named or described separately…”
I was knocked back by the similarities to what I had felt.
Now, I would have been a person who – if I thought about it all – perceived the universe as neither good nor bad, but as simply indifferent. Utterly unknowable and utterly indifferent, with nothing at all behind it. Yet it now seems to me that I’ve missed the point completely.
I’m unwilling to talk about ‘mystic experiences’ since that conjures up for me amusing images of hermits with long beards screaming about someone digging up their juniper bushes. But it almost appears to me now that the very best of people live their entire lives as a kind of mystic experience.
I’m thinking of my friends Marian and George. They are a completely ordinary couple – except that they’re not. They are examples of people – and there are many, of course, but these are two I know – who have led decent, even exemplary lives.
This is a world that usually rewards totally talentless and odious people, who have done nothing more with their lives than release a sex tape. And it rewards them with not only fortune but by holding them up as those whose lifestyle you should aspire to.
Any sane society would have these characters in a zoo. Yet the media venerate the ghastly creatures whilst the likes of George and Marian go unremarked: but they are genuine heroes who have worked hard all of their lives and instilled values in children who are now following in their footsteps as adults that any society would be proud to have.
It takes no skill whatsoever to crash and drink your way through life, hurting all around you – I would have been something of an expert in that – and I am in awe of both George and Marian and the many like them. The ones that no one will ever hear of, but without whom our society would fall apart.
What a blinded fool I’ve been, my whole life.