Wednesday 16 October 2019

John Masterson: 'Faraway fields or the green green grass of home'

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

John Masterson

I can remember many a sing-song in our living room ending with my father singing My Way. He had a tape of Sinatra songs that he liked a lot. I can still bring to mind the words "Regrets? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention" in his singing voice. I suspect the words were true if he gave them much thought. He always regretted not studying law but his father had sent him out to work. I know he regretted spending 40 years in an insurance job that he detested more with each passing day. But with a young family he just sucked it up. Every one of his regrets was more than outweighed by a long and happy marriage that was quite pleasant to witness.

Regret has been on my mind because of a conversation with a twenty-something who had a good job with a big company and was doing well. She resigned, to travel the world and told me she could not bear the thought of regretting that she didn't do it in 10 years time. I felt a mixture of admiration and envy.

The days of the emigrant ship are gone for the Irish. We travel the world by choice. It is no longer akin to a death sentence. Over the years we lost our brightest and best. It is happening again but today they will probably Facetime as soon as they land in New York or Bangalore.

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I don't think I have many regrets. There are things I have said when I had too much to drink that I would like to unsay, but you could fill Croke Park with people guilty of that. But I do regret not spending a good portion of my life living and working in another country and my young friend brought it to the forefront of my mind. If I add up all the days I have spend in America, it is a few years. But I was not living there. Likewise I have spent time in France and Australia, but always with a return flight booked. Is it too late? Am I, as Neil Young asked, "old enough to repay but young enough to sell"? I saw Neil in Kilkenny this summer. He has a good few years on me and he looked young enough for anything as he Rocked in the Free World for 20 minutes.

Emigration is now so normal that many countries have websites to help people prepare for the psychological changes as the early days may be very stressful. It is important to be psychologically healthy and in a good place. There are also big changes for those who remain at home. People who move to another country often say that the pull of home is there as a constant background to the emotional life. It is not that they are unhappy, they may be very fulfilled in their new life and having opportunities and excitement that would not be possible at home. But the pull of family, friends and familiar faces and places is ever present. There will be those who love the weather in Australia and never miss our rain-sodden island. There will be those who fall for The Big Apple and have no desire to live again in a city that ever sleeps.

But many return home. A turning point being when they have children. How often have you heard people say they could not cope with their children having an English accent?

It was from my father's Sinatra tape that I learned to love (and sing privately in the shower) Send in the Clowns. It might be time to review my love of Send in the Clowns. It is probably the most regret-filled song ever written. Or maybe it is a reminder to pay more attention to what is in front of our noses.

And keep on rocking.

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