Michael Harding: For years I thought of angels every time I saw snow

There was a young couple sheltering beside me in Warsaw, watching the snow. I wanted to say, ‘You are really a lovely couple.’ But I didn’t. I’m not that mad

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock

 

My therapist told me once that there is a child inside me, and, when that child feels frightened, I ought to hold him and tell him there is no need to be afraid.

“How can I hold him if he’s inside me?” I asked.

“Use a cushion,” she said. “Talk to the cushion as if it were the child that you used to be.”

I found that helpful and not at all difficult, except when other people were around the house, since I wouldn’t want visitors to catch me talking to the furniture.

When I was a child I used to believe my guardian angel held my hand while I slept, and I thought snowflakes were angel feathers that had fallen from heaven. I told a teacher this one time but he scoffed at me and asked how I thought wet snowflakes could be feathers.

“Clearly, feathers don’t melt,” he said.

“But maybe they fall through the universe,” I suggested. “And since the universe is very cold, they might change in to ice on the way.”

He wasn’t amused.

“The flakes come from the clouds,” he said.

But for years I thought of angels every time I saw snow on the roof of a house or on the bonnet of a car.

Warsaw church

One day last winter I was standing in the doorway of a church in Warsaw and I looked up at the sky and realised that the first snow of the afternoon was about to fall. I could see the first flake coming towards me. I stood waiting until it was a full flurry and then I stood waiting for it to end.

There was a young couple sheltering in the porch beside me and they looked almost surprised to be alive. They too were watching the snow. And their eyes followed the flakes and they laughed.

They seemed to be amazed with the snow but I think that they were probably amazed with each other. And because there were books in their backpacks, I guessed they might be students.

I wanted to go over and say, “You are really a lovely couple.” But I didn’t. I’m not that mad.

Wine and cider

When I was a student, I used to drink hot whiskies in the Roost in Maynooth with an American girlfriend through a particularly long winter of unusually heavy snow. And we would make a song and dance about it, going back up the slushy street to our little flat just beside the Leinster Arms (a flat I shared with two other male students, who also had lovers who slept over on Friday nights).

We would drink wine and cider from white plastic cups all through the night and recite hundreds of poems about snow or winter or love from various anthologies that were on our English courses. It was a kind of quiz.

Each in turn would ask, “Who wrote this?” before reciting a particular poem. The rest of us had to guess the author.

My girlfriend got the identity of the poet right almost 50 times out of 50, until eventually one of the other boys said: “You’re some c***.”

The remark implied that he was impressed by her erudition, but to her young American ears she could not have been more disgusted if he had vomited green bile and spun his head 360 degrees.

I tried to explain that Irish people sometimes use the word in conversation as a form of affection or admiration.

“For example,” I said, “if a farmer in Cavan grows excessively large and beautiful cabbages, his neighbours might likely remark that “those cabbages are serious c***s”.

But she wasn’t amused. She stormed out and I had to go after her. We were on the street in the yellow glow of a street lamp, and I was pleading for her to come back inside, when all of a sudden she turned her head to the sky and said, “Look”. And I looked up and saw the snow descending.

“Angels,” I whispered, even though I was a grown man, and she kissed me suddenly on the lips and said, “Happy Christmas”. As if the snow changed everything. As if flakes were angels who could hold us and wipe away all our bad feelings.

On the street in Warsaw I wanted to go over to the young couple and wish them a happy Christmas. But I didn’t have the correct Polish phrases. All I could do was go home alone and talk to a cushion on the sofa.

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