Here I Am Lord.

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St Michael’s Church, Limerick 

Recently I was called a “Catholic apologist” online. By somebody in the legal profession too so I was kind of rattled. Kind of. But it got me thinking about how I see the Church and what I believe in. And Elvis. I think about him too a lot. But that’s another days work.
I decided I was an atheist in 6th class just before I made my Confirmation. I’d read Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham,  life was shit and where the fuck was God? And that was that or so I thought. Who in their right mind would believe in an all-powerful being they can’t see and will never see? Not me that’s who.
And then the Church imploded and I was right! The Church is dead. Priests are bastards. Nuns are evil. Etc and etc. As a nation, Ireland came out from under the shadow of the Catholic Church.  We got divorced. We got all sorts of contraception. We got married in registry offices and hotels. We acknowledged how we treated women forced to give their babies away because they hadn’t entered Holy Matrimony. We voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality. We ARE a new people. We have Ann Summers and nobody cares anymore that you can buy crotchless knickers on the same street as Mothercare. Obviously we have more to do. Twelve women a day are leaving this great nation to access abortion abroad so #repealthe8th but again another day’s work.

So there I was, a happy atheist ( when I say happy I mean suicidally depressed but you know what I mean) and then something happened. I got married. In a registry office. My mother in law never recovered. And I had children. To baptise or not to baptise. GODDAMN YOU ALL I’M AN ATHEIST. But it wasn’t that simple. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns were lovely and loved us all.  We were taught tolerance and that Jesus loves us all. We had a Joy Club and it was actually joyful. I told the priest at school that I was an atheist and we had a perfectly reasonable chat about it. He was a lovely man. Who was I to deny my children the benefit of a happy education. If they choose to embrace faith as part of their lives that’s their choice and if not and they reject it then that’s perfectly fine too. But I wanted to give them the option. So I did. So far so Irish.

But lately I’ve noticed that you can’t just be an atheist. You have to be an Atheist. Capital A. The Great Church of the UnGod. Atheism is a religion and a fundamentalist one at that. It’s become perfectly acceptable to sneer at people who have faith and pray or go to Mass. I’m still an atheist but I’m not at all happy with this creeping trend. Peak Atheism for me happened when the internet nearly blew up congratulating Stephen Fry for railing against an unjust god he doesn’t believe in on The Meaning of Life with our own Gay Byrne. Was there one dissenting voice? I certainly wasn’t brave enough to say: “You know what Fry? Fuck off you’re an ATHEIST”. Yesterday I witnessed a good, decent man who is also a priest being called a “sky pilot” on social media while he discussed an epidemic of suicide in his parish on the radio. He was angry and he was sad. 8 suicides in 3 weeks. Think about that. In one county. BUT HE’S A SKY PILOT. DON’T LISTEN TO HIM. Have we forgotten that priests are on the frontline when it comes to grief. They’re at deathbeds every day. They are at the homes of bereaved parents and wives and husbands after the most tragic events. They offer the only comfort they can, which is their faith. Have we really come to a point where we think it’s acceptable to pour scorn on every man of the cloth simply because he is one. That’s not the New Ireland is it?  I’m not ready to reject what was part of my cultural upbringing. I went to Mass everyday with my Granny. I loved it. It was an important part of her day. She had friends. She was part of the Church. I’ve had friends and relations  who have endured great personal tragedy and they took enormous comfort from prayer. They had to believe there was a reason, a better place. Maybe nothing changed but they felt in some small way better.  I’ve been to the pit of despair more than once in my life and I’ve cried out desperate prayers to the Blessed Virgin or whoever would listen to me to help. And I felt helped. I felt better. I sang hymns on that boat back from England.  I can’t say I believe in God but I won’t laugh at anyone who does. I won’t demonise good priests or the lovely nuns who teach my children. I’m Irish. I collect rocks to keep me safe. I’m a Catholic atheist. And proud to be one.

When Leaves Attack

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My oldest child pointed out in conversation the other day that she will be 15 this summer. While that in itself is a reason for pause, because clearly I’m now old, what really stopped me dead was the vision I suddenly had of myself at that age. I remember 15 far too clearly for comfort so I try not to think about it much. 15 was the year of the leaves. The year the leaves attacked.

Think Jaws the movie and you’ll be half way to understanding. I wasn’t Jaws by the way, that was the leaves. I was the daft girl on a rubber boat. With no paddle. I’m not sure what triggered the leaf terror.  There was no horrific leaf experience but gradually over a period of a few weeks from September of that year and on past my 15th birthday I became utterly petrified of leaving the house when I knew I would have to walk past leaves on the ground. I was in Third Year in school and the path there and back  was a leaf-lined Hell. Living in one of my city’s leafier suburbs had never been less attractive to me. I had to map every step of the route according to where I knew the enemy lay in wait. And if it rained just forget about it. I held on to walls. I clung to railings. I once hid in a phonebox. I HID FROM LEAVES IN A PHONEBOX. In  January and February alone of that year, I missed 6 weeks of school and dozens more besides.  I bunked off at every opportunity I could. I sneaked home to hide in bed or I hid in various corners of the town devoid of leaves or people who would know I should be at school. The graveyard was a good spot. The misery and pain of such an existence lead to my first suicide attempt. At 15. Only my Rasputin-esque stomach prevented me from dying or doing permanent damage to myself. I spent 24 hours vomiting from the tablets I took but at least the leaves hadn’t won. However it didn’t feel like a victory at the time.

Now, as an adult who has struggled with poor mental health for most of my life I still think of that year as one of the worst. I am shaking even writing about those bastard leaves. The nasty wet smelly puddles of weeks-old horsechestnut leaves outside the house at the traffic lights. The bouncy stacks of dry leaves piled up looking so gorgeously Autumnal outside the church across the road. But who knew what lay beneath them? How was I supposed to walk?  When I think about how I felt that year I have no explanation but then you can’t rationalise mental illness. I wish I’d known I was unwell. I wish I’d known I was severely depressed and suffering from extreme levels of anxiety . I just thought I was weird. A freak . I cut myself off from all my friends at school and convinced myself they were all talking about me and laughing. I wonder now why nobody noticed that I was visibly in the throes of a breakdown. I blamed myself at the time of course. I told not a single soul so nobody offered to help me. But what did my parents think I was doing? Rebelling? My teachers, who would make sarcastic comments when I did show up in school, did they not notice an intelligent student slowly falling apart? I was a  good girl, slowly dying, because of leaves. But nobody noticed. Things are different now I’m told. I really hope this is true.

The leaf madness arrived gradually but it left me overnight. One morning the following October I woke up and simply knew it was gone. The sky was blue outside my bedroom window and I got up and went to school.

Copyright 2016 Neev.ie and myindoorvoice.wordpress.com

Everyone’s Gone to the Moon

It’s hard to put into words what this song meant to a 15 year old in the very pit of despair who mostly sat in her room drawing circles. She couldn’t go out because she was scared to death of leaves. Instead of putting it into words, I’ll just leave it here. #BowieLives

 

Kiss Me, I’m Irish

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St. Patrick’s Day happens every year on March 17th. It’s one day and today isn’t it, but do a tour of Pound Shops and Penneys like I did this morning and you’d be seeing quite a lot of green. And it’s not pretty. Forty shades of ghastly green Oirishness. Is this all we’ve got? Is “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” really funny ? Or the one that always baffles me “I’m an Irish Princess”. Really? Or even why?

Synonymous with drunkeness the world over St. Patrick’s Day is our National Aren’t We Gas Craic Day. And I’ve had enough. If a drunken stranger tries to kiss me on March 17th because I’m an Irish bloody princess, I’ll thump him. Or her. My t shirt is going to read GET THE F**K AWAY FROM ME YOU GOWL.