Wednesday 26 October 2016

A sort of homecoming

The six young people who died so tragically can teach us what 'home' actually means

Colum McCann

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Eoghan Culligan funeral
Eoghan Culligan funeral
Funeral of Eimear Walsh
Lorcan Miller funeral
Olivia Burke funeral

The balcony crumbled. There are words in the English language for those who have lost loved ones - widow, widower, orphan - but there is no specific or absolute word for a parent who has lost a child.

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Nor is there a specific dedicated noun or adjective in Irish, or French, or German, or in fact most other languages apart from Hebrew (sh'khol), Sanskrit (vilomah) and Arabic (thakla, mathkool).

There is a language we use - bereaved, bereft, grief-stricken, broken, torn apart, inconsolable, heartbroken - and all of these words have been used in the days since a space appeared in the air six thousand miles away.

There are not many times when language fails us, but the past nine days leaves a gaping hole in our ability to say that comprehension is within our grip. Meaning is carried out of sight. Purpose is dissolved. The mind slips into a stupor that is something akin to paralysis.

Ashley Donohoe. Olivia Burke. Eimear Walsh. Eoghan Culligan. Niccolai Schuster. Lorcan Miller.

They came home far too early. They were not long enough gone. We stand in shocked submission at the door of fate. The bodies come across the ocean. They are flown. How much a nation wishes we could have flown them earlier.

The great difficulty seems to be that there is no real focal point - or indeed language -for blame. Sure the planners failed. The inspectors failed. America failed. The building code failed. Empathy failed. The news reporters failed. Even language failed.

But perhaps the most poignant question is if there is any way that this desolation can bring us any sort of solace? These deaths, pointless in their occurrence, must somehow be proper in how they are remembered and propelled.

This is a homecoming. If there be anything about the deaths of these young people that be understood, it is that they brought a sense of "home" back to a nation where home has so often became a disparate word. Yes, the centre cannot hold. Yes, the ceremony of innocence is lost. Yes, things fall apart. But in these times when we celebrate Yeats, and our ability to "language" the world, it might be important to note that these six young people are teaching us what "home" actually means.

This new generation of Wild Geese: not forced away, but forced home. There is something profound we must honour in the character of these young men and women, cusped as they were at the edge of the world.

They are the markers of not just their own generation, but generations before them. They represent a form of bravery. They went away - like hundreds of thousands before - because they were curious to experience and influence the world. And they were due to return. They did. Too early.

They speak for everyone who has gone in the past, and for everyone who will continue to return in the years to come.

In this homecoming, they remind us what it means to be parents. Even if we have no language for one who has lost his or her child, we know we have the immemorial feeling. And we know, too, what it means to be a relative or a friend. And perhaps even more astoundingly, we know what it means when we didn't even know them at all.

In these deaths, then, some small rescue. Gather whatever air we can under their wings.

A nation has fallen asunder and yet can somehow re-hearth itself by acknowledging what sort of bravery it takes to go in the first place, or indeed to stay.

It can re-hearth itself by understanding that the world is bigger than this place we call Ireland, and yet, also, that everyone wants, eventually, to come home.

Maybe not a statue. Or a song. Or a poem. Or an article. But an idea.

A homecoming. How sad we are to see you. Home.

Colum McCann is the award-winning author of a number of novels; he lives in New York

Sunday Independent

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