Michael Harding: The older I get, the more susceptible I am to apparitions
The nuns from Minsk never appeared, but a man came like an angel from heaven and built a shed for my logs
Rain always inclines me to imagine the great Mother of God as she was on that great night of drizzle long ago when she surprised the people of Mayo. Photograph: Jack McManus
I was expecting nuns from Minsk. I don’t exactly know why. There are moments like that. Times I can’t explain why anything is happening. Someone arrives in the house and I don’t know why they are there.
It’s the same in the garden. Thrushes arrive, or badgers, pheasants, or even the daughter. I look out the window and there she is with her surfboard. Where she came from I don’t know. How long she is going to stay I cannot tell.
And then she’s gone again.
Such is the simplicity of life as I age. More and more things happen without reason. For example, the older I get the more susceptible I become to apparitions. The notion of a universe filled with luminous beings delights me more than a movie. An icon of St Mary can occupy me for hours. A universe that is forever unfolding towards perfect heavenly peace is a consolation to the elderly and becomes more plausible with every fresh shower of rain. In fact, rain always inclines me to imagine the great Mother of God as she was on that great night of drizzle long ago when she surprised the people of Mayo.
And happily, the rain in Connaught has been so heavy and consistent for the past four months that I began to sense her presence close to the house, just around the time the nuns from Minsk were due to arrive.
Too old for that crack
One day I was in Carrick-on-Shannon talking to a man who sells logs, and he asked me would I like some.
“I could bring you a trailer load,” he said.
“I don’t want any,” I replied, “because I have no shed.”
“But you don’t need a shed,” he said. “Not until winter. I could bring you up a load now and you can build the shed later.”
“I don’t want to go through another winter on a ladder every evening trying to fling a tarpaulin over wet logs in a storm of rain,” I said. “I’m getting too old for that crack. So I won’t buy your logs because I don’t have a shed.”
The next morning, as I scraped the shell off my boiled egg, I saw him reversing his truck in the gate with roof sheeting, and 4x4 timbers in the back of the truck.
“What are you doing?” I wondered.
“I’m going to build a shed today,” he said. “And I’ll bring you the logs later.”
“You’re like an angel come from heaven.” I declared.
And that’s when I remembered the nuns. I said “If you come tomorrow you’ll meet the nuns from Russia.”
Because they were supposed to come that evening and I imagined they would be up like larks, praying and singing before dawn.
What are Russian nuns like?” he wondered.
“I haven’t a clue,” I said. “But come before 8am so you can see for yourself.”
“And where in Russia are they from?” he wondered.
“Well,” I admitted, “strictly speaking they’re not from Russia. In fact they’re from Minsk in Belarus. But there isn’t a heap of difference between one place and the other, in respect of nuns.”
‘You’ll miss the holy women’
The shed man didn’t strike me as someone with a hugely discerning eye regarding the precise geographic origination of nuns, so I thought it fair to call them Russian. But he said nothing more about the subject. Until he had finished his work.
“I’m not coming back tomorrow,” he said. “But I’ll bring you a load of timber at the weekend.”
“You’ll miss the holy women,” I said.
“You said they were Russian,” he muttered. But Belarus is a different country. I’m not getting out of me bed to see Russian nuns if they’re not from Russia.”
And maybe it’s just as well he didn’t come, because the nuns didn’t arrive either. I got an email that evening to say they couldn’t make it because of engagements in Dublin.
On Saturday afternoon the man came with the logs and we both stacked them up in the new shed.
“What were they like?” he wondered.
“They never arrived,” I confessed.
He eyeballed me. Then he opened his mouth to speak but said nothing.
And the shed surprised me. I was sheltered from the weather but yet exposed to the elements in a very intimate embrace. I sat listening to the rain on the roof and suddenly I was ambushed by an intense motherly presence all around me, as if through the sheets of drizzle some powerful being was enfolding me in her arms. I felt she was just a breath away.
“Nuns or no nuns,” I thought, “the universe continues to unfold.”