Love, wild and dangerous, is all around
The sun was shining last Saturday afternoon as I stood outside a white marquee at the end of the Dialogues Through Literature Symposium in Balinamore; a cross-Border festival engaging people from north and south in discussions about literature. I was the last to leave and as I got into the Jeep a woman came over to me and said, “I think I know you.”
I remembered her immediately. She was a student in secondary school when I was a teacher. She longed for adventure, but outside the school walls there was only war and she wanted to be part of it. Sometimes she looked beautiful, and I was in my 20s but already old in the way men get when they’re afraid to say how they feel. And she was ugly sometimes too, when she talked politics, and her face would become distorted. “I suppose what saved me,” she whispered, “was love, and the fact that I left for America.”
I didn’t ask her what she was saved from, or what happened in her life back then. I was just relieved to know she had escaped the Troubles by getting a green card and I was delighted to hear her say she had been saved by love.
In the old days Balinamore was a town driven by narratives of war. I remember when the guards and Army were looking for Don Tidey and the main street was like a military barrack yard, with soldiers standing around drinking mugs of tea and smoking cigarettes and armoured cars creating traffic jams on the Swanlinbar road. And like the song said, every tractor had a Nicky Kelly sticker, and all the women were in Cumann na mBan; but that was a long time ago.
Back then the word love was a religious concept; a sweet syrup of applied metaphysics. As a noun or verb it belonged to clerics and evangelical preachers who moralised from pulpits and tin churches along the Border about how the mundane world was wicked and loveless. Even marriage was defined as a contract, a sacrament of metaphysical elegance in which love might be expressed in monthly cycles, and under strict policing by the clergy.
But nowadays everyone speaks of love. The word has been liberated. In Kerry I’ve heard people sing the word in songs of erotic joy. In Mayo it has been called an alternative to loneliness. In Kinnegad it’s a path through depression, and in Dalkey it’s a methodology for weeding the garden. Love is on the streets and in the shopping centres. And it is no longer a word too fearful to speak its name.
Love was never a religious invention. It is an act of human becoming. And it has become wild and dangerous again. It takes every risk and never regrets, and it always lets go. Love is what people say when they bid each other farewell.
“I love you’” is the last wave of a child’s hand at the airport. “I love you” is the last whisper, on every deathbed, when all the prayers and pleadings with God have been pushed aside. I suppose there are still some clerics who would keep the world unchanged. I know a man who was asked to say a few words at a funeral recently about the love he had for the deceased. But the clergyman dismissed the proposal. “We won’t be having that kind of circus here,” he said.
On my way home from Balinamore I passed a caravan where an old man lives alone. I drank with him 15 years ago. Back then he was cursing the television. He had rabbits ears stuck to the roof of the caravan but the reception was dreadful. He blamed it on the lights in the sky. He said the lights interfered with the signal.
“What lights?” I wondered.
“Over in Boyle there’s lights in the sky every night,” he said, “from the UFOs. The sky above Roscommon is a spaghetti junction of space traffic; they’re all up there bumper to bumper.”
I met him recently in the post office but he had lost his faith in extra terrestrials. “Any bother from the UFOs recently?”
“Ah no,” he joked, “They must have been hit by the recession. I suppose rocket fuel got too expensive. And besides,” he added, “I don’t bother with the television anymore. The nephew left me one of them laptops and a dongle before he headed for New York.”
“That was thoughtful of him,” I remarked.
“He’s a great cub,” the old man agreed. “I love him to bits.”