Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
I’ve spent the weekend celebrating. First on Friday I re-connected with a cousin. Since then my mind has been on the past, the uncles and aunts, grandparents, and parents now deceased. All weekend long the pull to look back has been strong, and I have indulged myself, remembering the funny stories and not so funny ones too.
One of my uncles was particularly proud of our Irish heritage and he would drill me to remember my ancestry. “What are you?” he’d ask, and if I hesitated, he would tell me the correct answer, “You are Irish American, not American Irish.”
From him and other relatives I would learn about the prejudice and hardships the Irish faced when they came over to America. Sometimes when a group experiences prejudice, they will work to ensure others never experience it. And sometimes, they rise above prejudice but then inflict it on others.
I am behind on my New Yorkers so it was just last week that I read “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” by Denis Johnson (from March 3 issue). The penultimate paragraph has stayed with me:
“I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.”
The holiday also got me to thinking about Irish writers I appreciate, and the short story writer who first captured my attention, Frank O’Connor. So I re-read some of his stories, and was haunted once again by the ending of “Guests of the Nation”
“It is so strange what you feel at such moments, and not be written afterwards. Noble says he felt he seen everything ten times as big, perceiving nothing around him but the little patch of black bog with the two Englishmen stiffening into it; but with me it was the other way, as though the patch of bog where the two Englishmen were was a thousand miles away from me, and even Noble mumbling just behind me and the old woman and the birds and the bloody stars were all far away, and I was somehow very small and very lonely. And anything that ever happened me after I never felt the same about again.”
I don’t know what the exact message of this post is except perhaps that the past always stays with us. Sometimes that is a consolation. And sometimes not.
Here’s hoping that when you reconcile with the past, you can make some good with it.
Peace, love, and solace