Joseph O'Connor: Lament for Berkeley
Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30
There was going to be a party. Calls and texts went around. Messages on Facebook. Conversations.
You were to ask that guy from Dublin. And I'd ask that girl from Laois. And if anyone wanted to bring along a friend, that would be grand. No problem.
We're Irish. We stick together, when we encounter each other far from home. Back in Ireland, we might have all sorts of issues with each other, as any family does, from time to time. Abroad, it's different. Abroad, we're a family. The affinities are clearer. They're low-key important.
It was only meant to be a party.
Not a goodbye.
A night beneath the harvest moon of California, when the world was young, and the hopes were younger, still. Because hope is a currency to the young.
And they spend it without stodgy care. They don't have mortgages or taxes. They don't care about the plight of the euro, or Greece, or recession, or newspaper headlines. Why would they?
They know, because they're intelligent and smart and educated, the best generation we ever had, the pride of all our hopes, the projection of our better and wised-up, post-recession selves, that all that stuff is important and meaningful and significant. But they know it's nothing but bullshit, too.
They have a celestially important treasure that the middle-aged don't have any more: the hope of all of us who were ever away from home for the first time.
Young. At a party.
Where music was playing.
To be 21 and with your pals. Is there any better feeling? To look out at the stars, and to think, for one fleeting, miraculous moment, that you could stir them around in the sky.
They didn't know that what would happen would fracture the heart of a whole nation.
They'd probably be amazed if they did.
Twenty-one, at a party, on the other side of the world, you don't expect that the flags of your country will tomorrow morning be flying at half mast for you.
You never met the President, but he'll be going to your memorial Mass. You never met the Taoiseach; he'll be saying your name. People who never heard of you will be shattered by your going.
We in Ireland are connected by a kind of underground water. It's the strangest thing about us. We care. More than that, that every mother and father in your country will happen to glance at your photograph on the front pages of the newspapers, in garages and newsagents and a hundred other places, and will find themselves weeping, silently, on stepping back into the car and will try to get it together, and will find the powerful grief strange.
They'll say to themselves, through real tears, as they drive away into all that morning holds: 'That could have been my child, the greatest blessing in my whole life, the reality that gives my life meaning.'
We're a small, tight-knit country. When hurt comes, it hurts.
Writers and poets will be asked to make some sense of it. But no one will be able. They'll try. But it can't be put into words.
The single, most unspeakable thing that can happen to any parent doesn't have a couplet of poetry commensurate with the grief.
Shakespeare doesn't have it. Heaney doesn't have it. Nobody does. It's not sayable.
And all we can do in the face of such cruelty, is to hold our own children, to love one another while we still have the chance.
The teenager you're finding difficult: love him. He's precious. The baby you held in your hands yesterday and who now seems impossible: love her. She's the best you'll ever be.
Because there aren't the words. There will never be the words.
There is only what remains when all the words are uttered, the faintest, most brittle possibility of love.
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