I'd love to lose god, and I've a perfect alternative


Opinion:It’s almost St Valentine’s Day and my beloved has gone off to Dublin. She is on the train as I write, probably deciding if she wants coffee or a Danish pastry, or if she should save her money for lunch in the National Gallery.

What she will do after that I don’t know. She has her own life and she has business with the world. It’s a mystery to me what she does, or when she will return. When she walks out the door she leaves my universe; she sings her own songs in some unknown elsewhere, and alone I must face the music of the whispering stove, the bronchial cat, and the distant hammer on scaffolding breaking through the fog.

When my beloved goes away from the house I have nobody. So I question myself more than when she is here. I search for the existence of a self in my breath and in my body.

Recently I saw a writer on television being questioned about God. “Do you believe in God?” the interviewer asked.

“No,” said the writer.

“Do you believe in an afterlife?” the interviewer wondered.

“No,” said the writer, helpless and impoverished in his honesty.

Personally I’d love to boldly declare that I had lost God. However, he still clings to me like a wet rag, like dampness in the overcoats on the back of the door.

Solitude and silence

Perhaps the beloved is an alternative to God; a refuge for me, a shelter where joy becomes plausible for a short while. In her presence, I have a meaning, even if it is only to make sure the coal buckets are full. Alone without her for a day, I am barely able to survive. I must eat my porridge in solitude and silence, and place a single bowl in the dishwasher with my single spoon.

All day I wait for her to return. And when I am eating lunch, a piece of brown bread and a bowl of soup from the fridge that the beloved made yesterday from peppers and onions, I shiver with loneliness. I wonder does she think of me as she walks along Grafton Street or sits in a restaurant drinking coffee. Perhaps I flash into her mind sometimes. But I don’t know what image she has of me. I don’t know the “me” that she leaves behind.

I remember getting distressed one night in a hotel in Cork. Not that Cork had anything to do with it. I love Cork; my mother spent happy days there working in a hotel when she was a young woman.

When my father died in 1976 I brought my mother back to Cork on a holiday, and the hotel manager she used to work for just happened to be in the building while we were at lunch, although he was retired by then. He came to our table to shake the widow’s hand, and my mother flushed with the pleasure of seeing him.

And not long after I met my beloved we took a romantic break together in a Cork hotel. We booked a big room with a jacuzzi bath and an enormous bed. But in the middle of the night, I became agitated. I was flailing about in my sleep and talking babble. She woke me and said, “You’re a hard man to sleep with sometimes.”

I didn’t reply, because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just gazed at her from my side of the bed, and after a while she said, “What are you looking at?” and I didn’t have a reply for that either, but gradually we both began to smile.

Gazing outwards

A lot of years have gone by since then and nowadays we both sit gazing at each other, or together gazing outwards into the universe. But when my beloved goes away I have nothing to gaze at except the lake, which is what I did on Monday, for a few hours, while she was in Dublin, and then she phoned in the afternoon to announce that she wouldn’t be home until Thursday.

“Thursday is Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Maybe we should do something special when you come home.”

And so I will light the fire on Thursday evening and when the train arrives I will be there to meet her, and we will drive home together and drink some wine and gaze at each other all night long in the flickering firelight. We will sit in silence unwatched by any god until eventually the fire goes out and we fall sleep.

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