Sunday 15 September 2019

Stella O'Malley: 'A grieving father gives all of us a life lesson to remember '

'In the face of needless and tragic death, the only thing we can do is to commit to being a better person. Otherwise what are we here for?' Stock image
'In the face of needless and tragic death, the only thing we can do is to commit to being a better person. Otherwise what are we here for?' Stock image
Stella O'Malley

Stella O'Malley

Child of our time, our times have robbed your cradle./Sleep in a world your final sleep has woken.

When the poet Eavan Boland saw a newspaper photograph of a fireman tenderly lifting a dead child from the debris of the Dublin bombings in 1974, she was inspired to put pen to paper to try to make sense of such a terrible tragedy.

'Child of our Time' was the result and with it Boland managed to write a poem that was a response to the sudden and senseless death of all children.

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I thought of 'Child of our Time' when I read of Liam Marren's compassionate and powerful victim impact statement. Liam Marren's little boy, Cian, was just six years old when he was killed by a van that broke a red light at a pedestrian crossing. Cian did everything right. He pressed the button and waited for the green man until he crossed the road. James O'Brien, who was later jailed for four years, did everything wrong. He broke the lights and he killed the boy.

My heart goes out to everybody in this terrible story. To all of Cian's family and friends who have been left senselessly bereft and devastated, to James O'Brien who has a heavy, heavy burden to bear for the rest of his life and, most of all, to Cian whose life was cut short for no reason.

Yet, in spite of all this, Liam Marren and his family have managed to create a tiny glimmer of light out of this dark episode.

In his victim impact statement, Mr Marren told James O'Brien his family forgave him. He said that despite "the unbearable pain, hurt, suffering and anguish, and the life sentence of loss we are living, the one emotion we don't have is bitterness". Then he added: "We want James O'Brien to know that our son Cian forgives you."

Somehow, within all the pain that Liam Marren and his family have suffered, they have kept with them the purity of six-year-old Cian who knew no bitterness. Reading about such extraordinary kindness made me wonder, if the Marren family can do this, can all of us?

Can we salvage something out of the dark times by resolving to making the world that bit better?

Considering the kindness of the Marren family and considering we're the ones who are left behind and still alive, could we, as a gesture, take a deep breath and make sure we add to the sum of peace and joy in this difficult and hurt world?

If every single person who learns of a pointless death re-appreciates the preciousness of their own lives and becomes a better person as a result, then perhaps there could be some scintilla of hope beyond the heartbreak.

Children create the magic in this world. They bring with them life, fun, tenderness and a sense of hope for the future.

Could we choose to be the person who, along with the kids, adds to the magic this Christmas instead of to the misery?

There will be plenty of opportunities to take the high road or the mean and nasty road in the coming days. We can sail right into the forthcoming row with grim determination or we can, despite everything, spread a sense of goodwill and peace.

Now that we're at the weirdest time of the year; that crazy week where we are suddenly expected to have a great time with the very people we spend the rest of the year studiously avoiding, we can face this Christmas like a test on our kindness.

Because Eavan Boland's poem tells us that if we are to find some meaning from the senseless death of a child then we must find a new language; a new way of being. We must appreciate the life we have and the life these children don't have because, simply put, we owe it to them.

We can learn how to be better people; we can learn how to speak so others will hear us; how to act so we don't hurt other people. Boland speaks to the child in the poem and says: 'We who should have known how to instruct... must learn from you dead.'

In the face of needless and tragic death, the only thing we can do is to commit to being a better person. Otherwise what are we here for?

Irish Independent

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