Today, May 1, 2008 is Global Love Day.
An International Celebration
We are one humanity on this planet.
All life is interconnected and interdependent.
All share in the Universal bond of love.
Love begins with self acceptance and forgiveness.
With tolerance and compassion we embrace diversity.
Together we make a difference through love.
When I finished High School in Australia I went back to live in the UK for a bit. I actually wanted to run away and join the circus but didn’t possess adequate acrobatic ability, so I pestered my Grandmother for a while instead.
Back then I was mad at the world, at myself, at people in general. I was consumed with angst. I felt like everyone was leering at me, waiting for me to flounder. I was frothing at the mouth, stewing, curdling. When I look back now I feel like giving myself a good slap.
I began to drink, sneaking my Grandad’s Guinness or a bottle of cheap wine from the pub, drinking it in the peat fields that looked over the Atlantic, fighting off curious sheep, goats and the occasional donkey. I was sick more often than not because I was and continue to be, a hopeless drunk.
My Grandmother didn’t mince words. ‘I will not have a drunken lout in this house,’ she said. ‘You will go to church, to confession to have your sins absolved, and then you will reform. If not…’
The if not hung in the air between us like a cursor set to underline unacceptable future behaviour. I did what I always did back then when I couldn’t stand facing myself – I ran. I bought a ticket on the first southbound bus and sat glaring at the world, sulking, petrified, ashamed of my petulant behaviour.
That afternoon I arrived in a village I had never heard of, bought a sandwich and sat in the town square. It was growing cold and I only had a light jacket and not enough money for a room for the night. I wondered when the next bus back home would be, fearing I would have to sleep on the streets.
To my dismay, the next bus wasn’t until the morning. The sky was already turning purple and the cold was rising up damp and insistent, shackling my bones. I idled away several hours drinking one cup of tea in the local tea house but they closed shortly after eight o’clock. I had nowhere to go but back to the town square. I pulled an old newspaper from the bin and tried to sleep on a park bench.
After about an hour a torch was shone in my face. My first thought was: ‘Great, it’s the police, sent to find me by my Grandmother.’ But it was a rescuer of another sort.
Bridie O’Connell was a former social worker who had set up a refuge for the homeless. Every night she combed the streets looking for people with no place to go. I took in her flyaway red hair and little apple cheeks and thought I was being visited by one of the ‘little people’, a genuine Irish leprechaun.
Bridie may have been small, but she was tough. ‘Let’s be having you, then,’ she said, the tone in her voice brooking no argument. She bundled me into a van with about ten other people and drove off to a house at the edges of the village – a huge, crumbling Victorian manor with what seemed like thousands of bedrooms. It was the only refuge I have ever seen where everyone got their own room and their own bed. I slept on thick, hospital grade sheets with scratchy blankets but I remember that night’s sleep as being one of the best of my life.
In the morning, Bridie put me to work – doing laundry, collecting eggs from the chicken coop, making porridge. She insisted I call my Grandmother. We both decided I should stay with Bridie for a few days to get my head straight.
Those few days changed my life. I saw people steeped in despair, hoping again, able to see the light, regarding this woman who had taken them in with reverence. And Bridie was someone to be revered.
She had come from a very wealthy family. Her father had left her millions of pounds. She had decided to help the homeless because her father had developed dementia in the latter years of his life and had spent much of his old age wandering the streets, sleeping rough. Bridie couldn’t bear to think of another family going through what she had, so she set up the shelter.
She taught me a very important thing in the few days I stayed with her and that is that but for a simple twist of fate, of genetics, of luck, I could be that homeless, dispossessed, disenchanted person. So could you. Or the AIDS orphan in Africa, the drunken bum living on the streets of Moscow, a persecuted monk in Tibet, or a factory worker in Latin America.
Seamus Heaney sums up what I am trying to say in his poem, Ten Glosses.
Questions and answers come back. They formed my mind.
‘Who is my neighbour?’
‘My neighbour is all mankind.’
I dedicate my post to the memory of Bridie O’Connell who loved her fellow man above all else, who saw the worth in everyone despite gender, race or creed. Who believed that we are many, but we are one. I’ll never forget you, Bridie.
HAPPY MAY DAY !