In a Word....

....smile. Patsy McGarry

 

Just once since the arrival of Covid-19 on these shores did I feel the consequent restrictions might be getting to me. Yes, I revelled in the wonderful weather of those earlier days with nature’s abundance on wanton display.

The enforced isolation meant that when I caught a person’s eye on the daily walk it was met with a smile, to which I responded by reflex. It was indeed pleasant how, instead of just rushing on, we acknowledged each other, warmly, and passed by.

I had become so lulled into this civilised habit it was almost my undoing. I let myself down, badly. I smiled at a favourite enemy before I realised it, instead of - like Yeats’s horseman - casting the usual cold eye.

So perturbed was I that it took an act of will not to chase after him and demand my smile back, telling him “....that is not what I meant at all!” It was too late. My day was ruined, not least as he might misunderstand and think I would want to engage with him afterall. After all his unpleasantness.

There was no personal falling out. Indeed there has been little personal interaction, by my choice. But I have heard him pontificate at great leisure and length on the evils of minorities, the innate inferiority of other races, the untrusty “lower orders”, etc. and all delivered with such deeply-felt irrational passion he can come across as one possessed.

There is also the style of delivery, loud, bombastic, and with such spittle as would strike terror in even the most sanguine soul in these Covid-19 days. It is a consolation to realise he must now be masked wherever two or three are gathered but, sadly, not gagged.

Observing him over the years has been an education. It was to understand that tolerance cannot be extended in a civilised society to some views and, worse, to realise how these can be so deeply rooted in the irrational they can’t be changed.

And, lest this be thought virtuous, there was the added realisation of my own deeply irrational antipathy to this man. We twain cannot ever meet. Or smile at one another. But it has helped me understand how bitterness could poison our country for decades after the civil war.

Smile, from Danish smile, and Latin mirus for `wonderful’.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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