I WAS back in West Kerry for the weekend and on Sunday afternoon I called to a family I know. In the garden little eight-year-old James was playing football and asked me if I would play 'goals' with him. Sad to say, that a 62-year-old man did his damndest to beat the little boy in goal scoring.
But it was great fun. I might have ruined the best pair of shoes I have, so what.
Later sitting down at table with his mum and dad and two older sisters something came up about death. Maybe I had mentioned, that earlier in the month it was 24 years since my mother had died. I must have asked how long it was since the man of the house's mother had died. The moment I mentioned that, little James seemed to get somewhat confused and said to me in a low voice I should not be talking about the death of his dad's mother as that might upset his father.
We changed the subject. But it certainly stopped me in my tracks. The topic of death confused the little boy. He really had no words for it. Do any of us? It is the grim reaper. When I was teaching religious knowledge in school I would regularly begin the year by pointing out that there was only one thing we could say with certainty about every one of us in the classroom. And that was of course that we were all going to die. It's something no-one avoids.
We read and hear about people being killed on the roads, people being killed in tragic circumstances and then we see on our television screens death and destruction around the world. These days the graphic images from Syria tell the horrific story of people dying horrendous deaths.
Of course there probably is a natural way to die but death comes in myriad forms and certainly we never know the day nor the hour that it will strike.
And yet, we always seem to cope. Of course we all cope in different ways.
On Sunday Finance Minister Michael Noonan buried his wife. She had been tragically struck down many years ago suffering from Alzheimer disease. It must be two years ago since Mr Noonan spoke openly on television about his wife's condition. I remember at the time being greatly impressed with him and how he told his story. It was in many ways a terrible tragedy for him and his family and yet he coped.
People manage to cope and survive in the most unspeakable conditions.
Driving back to Dublin on Monday I called to visit a man I know for the best part of 40 years. Some weeks ago he suffered a stroke and is now unable to use his left hand and leg. He is in hospital and anytime I visit him he is in a wheelchair. His life has changed and most probably he will never know life again as he knew it in his health.
I try to visit him at least once a week and every time I leave the hospital I am confounded with the thought – how would I cope with something like that happening me. It really scares me.
And yet this man whom I visit has really flabbergasted me with his attitude and his ability and intention to get on with his life as it now is. He is a man whom I know can easily trip off the caustic or acerbic word. He is well known for his quick phrase and is indeed never slow to take hostages with his words. Although, behind his words, there has always been a kindness and decency that the words might sometimes hide.
These days visiting him in hospital is really a moment of inspiration for me. Yes, it scares me when I realise how fragile we all are but I also see how people cope and can indeed be amazingly gracious and inspiring in their coping.
It really is astonishing how we get on with our lives, never really knowing what's around the corner.
I write these words within 24 hours of little James telling me not to talk about death and visiting a stroke victim in hospital and all I can do is think of the Psalm:
"Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord, Lord hear my voice!
"O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading." (Psalm 129)