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Jim O’Brien: Some of us have to travel the globe to find what others have just down the road

Jim O'Brien


Friendships among farm families often have roots that go deeper than anyone can remember

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For many farmers, their circle of friends has been stable since their school days. Stock image

For many farmers, their circle of friends has been stable since their school days. Stock image

For many farmers, their circle of friends has been stable since their school days. Stock image

I have often wondered where the term ‘bucket list’ originated. It appears to have been invented by screenwriter Justin Zackman for his 2007 film, The Bucket List, and refers to the list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket.

When put like that there’s a sort of dark finality about the compiling and execution of the list. I suppose nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline, particularly the ultimate deadline.

On the other hand, it can free us up to do extraordinary things and fulfil dreams that the ordinariness of life has all but smothered.

One of the things I imagine doing, while I still can, is spending a few months, a year even, catching up with friends, making meaningful contact with people with whom I have lost touch.

I have a notion of turning it into a road-trip, a sort of pilgrimage, revisiting old friends and recounting the joys and sorrows that characterised the particular period of time when our lives and paths crossed.

In some cases, it might be an opportunity to resolve the unresolved, or even to leave them so. I am reminded of that lovely phrase used by storyteller Eamon Kelly to park an element of a story when he’d say, “things reshted so”.

Having lived different lives in different places, I calculate that I have friendships stretched across 10 distinct phases of my existence.

In imagining a trip across the 10 phases, I expect there would be great craic along the way, laughing about things that were disasters when they happened.

Like the night I had to board a bus full of tourists at Fiumicino Airport and inform them that, due to circumstances beyond my control, they would be spending the first five days of their visit to Rome in Anzio, a seaside town over 63km south of the city.

Anzio is a lovely place, made famous by the Allies’ amphibious landing there in January 1944 and the ensuing battle that lasted five months.

I had to battle with a small army of disgruntled tourists for five days, launching charm offensive after charm offensive until accommodation in Rome was secured.

That memory was triggered as I cast my mind’s eye over the various phases of my life.

I’m sure many more memories will be triggered if I ever get around to meeting the people I worked and played with across the decades.

Some, I’m sure, will be delighted to reconnect, others may wonder where I have been for the last 30 years and why this sudden urge to meet up.

But, by and large, my experiences to date in coming across old friends would suggest that friendships are rekindled and find a new depth brought on by the passage of time.

Writing this, I am conscious that for many farmers their circle of friends has been stable since their school days, determined by geography, occupation and inheritance.

Some are living in the house they were born in, where those before them were born, and those before them again.

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Others are living a stone’s throw from their birthplace. Friendships formed from their earliest years in primary school and secondary school in many cases remain the same.

Friendships among farm families often have roots that go deeper than anyone can remember.

There is a stability and a warmth to them that are not made manifest in hugs and kisses but will find expression in nods of recognition and the gentle squeeze of a hand.

The richness, depth and constancy of these connections are often envied by those of us who have moved away.

Permanence is a feature of farming families and their friendships, especially for those who stay where the land is and, as the cliché goes, grow where they are planted.

Impermanence, mobility and ‘being moved around’ was traditionally associated with occupations like the guards and bank managers. It was also associated with clergy and members of religious orders.

However, in the Benedictine order there’s a huge value placed on what they call ‘stability’, in physically staying in a certain monastery for life. It implies constancy and perseverance.

Stability, hospitality and community are among the 10 core values of the Benedictine way of life, values held in common with farming communities everywhere. Sometimes those who stay at home feel deprived of the opportunities enjoyed by those who chose to stretch their wings.

Those who took to the wing often envy the stability of those who stayed, who will never need to travel the country or the world to find the people and places that made them.


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