Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tuning in to a powerful message of hope

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

Founder Sr Consilio with residents Joseph Tallon, Kelly Maria Clarke and Shirley Bonass at the opening of a major extension of the Cuan Mhuire Centre in Dublin. Jason Clarke
Founder Sr Consilio with residents Joseph Tallon, Kelly Maria Clarke and Shirley Bonass at the opening of a major extension of the Cuan Mhuire Centre in Dublin. Jason Clarke

"When I tune into nature's frequency, life becomes change and change becomes hope".

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There are times in all our lives when we encounter someone who makes us stop and think.

Early last week, I got a phonecall from my colleague Darragh McCullough to ask if I would do an interview with a man named PJ Jones.

PJ wanted to talk. About himself and his life to date, a happy childhood that was shattered when he was abused; how he dulled the pain with hard work and, later, alcohol; the shock when the secret finally came out and how it was reconnection with nature which opened his door to recovery.

The words at the top of this article are PJ's.

His story needs no embellishment. The bald facts are chilling. The details are unique to him. Unfortunately, in this country, as PJ rightly points out, the gist of it is not.

He ran away from his pain for years. When we, consciously or unconsciously, bury something deep inside, we may believe we are controlling it but it's really the other way round.

PJ is lavish in his praise of Cuan Mhuire and Sr Consilio: "I would get up to work for her at 6am every day and twice on Sundays."

He also sings the praises of the those who set him on the road to recovery in St Pat's in Dublin.

But it was getting back to basics through manual work at Cuan Mhuire that was his breakthrough.

Sr Consilio is also a big believer in the power of letter writing.

When she was starting to help people with addiction, she often talked to them about their families and encouraged them to write home, particularly if their mothers were alive.

"I often thought how my mother would worry if a brother of mine were in a similar position," she once said.

PJ was anxious to mention a letter he received during his first week in Cuan Mhuire from son Colm. It was frank and honest and, as PJ now recognises, rightly, said that he had to find his own way out of his hurt.

Another thing PJ had to do was to find a happy moment in his life and use that to help him.

The moment he now returns to was the day when he was six and his sister Jackie was born.

He was out in the field picking peas with his dad on a Ferguson 20, with his dog in his lap and the sun on his back. His dad shot him a glance, both their faces lit up. "I felt I had everything," he said.

Hearing PJ's story makes me realise how lucky I am, how lucky most of us are.

One of my favourite poems is the Desiderata, which contains the line: "If you compare yourself with others you may become vain or bitter."

Many of us do regularly compare ourselves with others. But with whom?

The Human Development Index is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and income per capita. Estimates for 2015 show, out of 188 countries, Ireland was joint sixth (with Germany), behind only Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

On those figures, we have a better life on average than over 99.99pc of the people in the world.

Right now, PJ is buzzing with the energy that is always associated with a new start. He knows that the road ahead will not always be easy. But he has hope. And he wants to spread that hope.

His closing words to me were: "If you and I, between us, in telling this story, can save just one life, we have done something worthwhile."

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