Beauty in the Ordinary

I’m still amazed by how it happened.  How I recognised so much beauty in something so simple and ordinary.  It was the closest thing I had encountered to the sacred and yet, for many others I am certain it would have meant nothing, perhaps gone unnoticed even.

I was standing at the kitchen sink rinsing away the residue of that afternoon’s meal.  My mind was on a million and one other things that were waiting to be done that week.  There was grocery shopping to be done, one of the children’s bedrooms needed re-decorating and that was going to be a nightmare operation, there were deadlines at work that still hadn’t been met, and there were those e-mails I kept promising myself to write to someone somewhere I had begun to lose touch with.

The soapy warm water was comforting.  I love it when it’s just the right temperature that it makes you want to run a warm bath and immerse your whole body into that perfumed lagoon away from the piles of homework that’s waiting for assistance, the basket-loads of laundry, and the non-stop noise of family life.  I love hand washing the dishes.  We have a dishwasher of course, but there’s something very therapeutic about physically scraping away the left-overs into the bin, washing the utensils, and renewing everything for another day.

I do my day-dreaming at the kitchen sink.  It is there that extraordinary moments and thoughts enter my mind.  I’ve often wondered how it is possible to be moving through time and space and at the same time be transported to another space, where memories come to life and moments in our past are relived and remembered in fleeting milli-seconds before we are transported back to the present.  Are these moments hints of the celestial in our earthly lives? The divine in the human? The kairos in our chronos?

Something caught my eye through the kitchen window and it brought me back to the sudsy water and the greasy plates.  I think it might have been a football.  United were winning by five or six nil at this stage and were miraculously achieving this in my back garden with only the one striker (a leftie, which he tells me is what all the best strikers are), no mid-fielders, no defence and no goal-keeper.  “Oh Yes!” he shouted, “he’s done it again, the crowd is going wild.  United, United!”  I chuckled to myself.  I love the way they don’t notice that they are being watched by us at all.  They are so engrossed in their imaginings and the whole thing is so real to them that they too are transported to that place where our imaginations live, where we seem to visit less and less as we get older but remember spending most of our childhood.

I love to listen to their conversations when I’m driving.  They know you are there in the car too but they always seem to forget that you can hear everything.  It is so funny and I often wish I had a dictaphone with me to record some of their chatter.  “I thought Ms Treacy (his teacher) was going to blow a gasket.” “So did I!” “And did you see the look on Darren’s face?” “Yeah, he won’t live that down for a long time.” “And we won’t let him.” I hear sniggering.  “Do you think Ms Treacy fancies Mr Finlay?” “Course she does, do you not see the way she laughs at all his jokes even though they’re not funny and gets all girlie when he comes into the class room?” “Yeah, and Mr Finlay’s married you know?” “I know!”

The water was not as warm now.  I had been day-dreaming again and I had not noticed that I too was being watched from the doorway.  I don’t know how long he had been standing there, looking at me just standing there with my hands in dirty dish water staring off into some nowhere and everywhere land.  “Everything ok?” he asked.  And, as he crossed the space between us and placed his hand on the small of my back, I answered “everything’s beautiful, just beautiful.”


The Dating Dilemmas of a Contemporary Theologian

The “rocky road” to love has more often than not felt like a Himalayan mountain climb for me.  Of course, there has been plenty of “suitors” as my mother’s generation would have called them, some even managing to get through the front door and sit in the good front room, which was only used at Christmas.  “Don’t worry if my dad doesn’t talk to you” I’d say as I walked down the road with my new boyfriend, “he doesn’t talk to any of the lads I bring home!”  What confidence I must have bestowed in my latest fancy – advance warning that my dad would hate his guts and a confession that I was a serial dater!

Some twenty years later and I’m back playing the dating game once more and the rules haven’t changed one bit.  It’s the same old place only it’s called “Mantra” now and somehow, instead of it being full of “auld lads on the pull,” it’s full of lads I used to baby-sit!  Instead of Geldolf asking me to “feed the world,” Lady Ga Ga is asking me to poke her face!  So my friend Lesley decided that this was ridiculous and she signed us up for a night out speed dating in “Howl at the Moon” in Dublin.

When we arrived twenty-five pairs of male eyes ran up and down our bodies, lingering far too long in all the wrong places (the right and only places on a woman as far as they were concerned I suppose) and watched us both as we came down the few steps to the registration desk.  Their eyes were burning holes in the back of my head as we signed the forms.  “I wish someone else would come through those doors” I thought but no, it looked as though we were the last to arrive and so we had to cross the ever-growing dance floor to our seats with twenty-five heads turning simultaneously as we passed.

And so, the speed dating rules were read out, the bell rang, and man number one sat down in front of woman number one and man number twenty-four sat down in front of me, “Julie 24.”  How I wished at that moment that I was twenty-four.  You see, Lesley had booked us into an age group of thirty-five to fifty.  “Tony 24” had been generous to himself when he said he was forty-five.  I had definitely seen younger forty-five year olds in the nursing home!  The conversations all seemed to head in the same direction – your name, your age, where you were from and what you do for a living.  Isn’t it quite amazing how much stock we seem to put in a person’s livelihood?  Does is make any difference if he or she is a doctor, a bank clerk, or a bus driver?  Is this where we place our human worth?  Anyway, the minute I would mention that I was a student the “date” would naturally ask “what do you study?” “Theology” I’d reply. “Oh… do you want to be a nun?” he’d ask. “Yes” I’d say.  “That’s why I’m out speed dating because I want to be a nun!”  As if this hadn’t been bad enough, the other usual question was “have you ever done this before?” Unfortunately for me, when “Dave 19” asked me this question and I replied “no, this is my first time to try it.”  He launched himself from his chair, did some sort of hula dance around the table and announced to the whole room “whey hey hey I’ve got a speed dating virgin!”

It didn’t get any prettier from there on in.  I met “Frank 4” who had “love” and “hate” tattooed on his fingers and just to add to his magnificent artwork he had “all cops are bas###ds” tattooed across the back of his hand.  I’m also sure that “John 15” was a serial killer and, as for the rest of them, well they were only looking for one thing and one thing only.  The only person I had a laugh with that night was “Niall 14.”  The poor guy had signed up to the wrong age group and was only twenty-two.  We chatted freely and we both knew that the situation was rather funny.  Now I have to be honest and say that the most enjoyable part of the evening was the bag of greasy chips on the way home through Inchicore.  Lesley and I could not stop laughing at the situation we had both found ourselves in.

You would have thought that this was the point when we abandoned all hope but no, we’re not that easily put off.  The organisers of the speed dating event had automatically added us to their dating website and within a few days a lot of “winks” and messages were being left on my profile page.  There was Andrew who knew that God was working on his behalf to direct me towards him.  There was Nafay, a twenty-eight year old bisexual Hindu and John who only had room for a woman who had room for him and Jesus in her life! However, there was also Patrick who seemed to have a lot in common with me and actually seemed to be normal enough.  Now Patrick had told me during our online chats that he was thirty-eight, had blue eyes and brown hair, he was self-employed, that he had a degree, loved travelling, books, the theatre, and lots of other things that I also had an interest in.   You can imagine my surprise when this fifty-eight year old was sitting in the coffee shop waiting for me the day we met.  His hair was brown… all four of them that were dragged across the top of his head with a pound of brylcreem and I quickly discovered that everything he had said online was without an ounce of truth.  I think it was Einstein who once said that it is difficult to say what truth is but sometimes it is so easy to recognise falsehood! He didn’t like travelling, books or the theatre and had said it all to make himself sound more interesting.  The most exciting thing this guy had ever done was get up early one morning for the opening of a new Tesco store!

Now, my mother had always told me that if a lad crossed the dance floor and asked me to dance in front of all his friends that the decent thing to do was to dance with him no matter what he looked like or who he was because it takes a lot of guts to ask a girl to dance with the fear of rejection looming so, I sat in the coffee shop with Patrick for almost two hours trying to make conversation with the guy rather than calling him a big liar and chucking the coffee in his face.  I won’t be doing that again!

And so reader it is with a not so heavy heart that I have decided that online dating, speed dating, or any other form of dating that includes a profit-yearning third party is not for me.  When Pope Benedict said that “love, in the true sense, is not always a matter of giving way, being soft, and just acting nice… a sugar-coated Jesus or a God who agrees to everything and is never anything but nice and friendly is no more than a caricature of real love,” he must have known something about speed dating or online dating, where everything is sugar-coated and nice, but none of which is real!

(Quote is from God and the World: Believing and Living in our Time, p. 186.)

A Moment in Time with the Skunk’s Companion

A very important friend told me recently that I have to let go of something.  It was words.

Words can be so arbitrary yet the power they possess is fearsome.  A long time ago in one of my many other lives I had a little red book of poetry.  Poems I had written at different stages of my life.  Many of the poems were about people: family, friends, and strangers.  I had written about some good and some not-so-good experiences too. These poems were written long before I could afford a pc or even a typewriter and I had no other copies of them anywhere else.

The book is gone. Destroyed? I don’t know. I suspect not. I have been unable to share my words since ‘my book’ was imprisoned, unable to write almost.

However, I picked back up my pen in 2003 and wrote a poem the very same evening I had the chance to meet with a legendary Irish poet.  I have done nothing with this poem since.  It has sat alone in a little green book of poetry for nine years.  So it is time.  Time to let go of ‘my book,’ time to let go of the words, and time to let go of the breath I’ve been holding.

A Moment in Time with the Skunk’s Companion

The golden dust of the sun rests on
the old globe in the window.
He is seated in this high-backed armchair.
A dishevelled mop of grey and silver hair.
With a soft Derry accent and a homely smile,
the Vikings on the Liffey came to life before my eyes.

I wanted to be alone with him.
Can I tell you of the things I want to do?
Would you listen to my poems if I read them to you?
My moment in time is broken
by the sweet-smelling coffee
and I catch a wink of amusement at the fuss being made.