Monday, January 6, 2014

Journal of a Soul 41

Thoughts on the Eve of 2014

A very wet Lungomare, Soverato, Jan 2nd 2014

I remember once reading in the works of the great Victorian theologian, scholar and writer, John Henry Newman, that essentially how (not why) we believe was as much a mystery as how we remember.  And indeed, memory is one of those great mysteries in life.

As I write this post here in Isca Marina (Sullo Ionio) on the last day of the year of 2013, bereft of Internet connections as the rain pours down – almost as inexorably as it does in Ireland – I am indeed awash with memories, most of them random, though somewhere my inner Self (whatever or whoever that is) is giving them some structure and form. Being without any instant Internet connection for the week to come means that this post will not see “light of day” on-line until sometime later than this last day of 2013 - more than likely very early in The New Year.

Is memory (which here I am equating with what many of us have come to define as the Self) really all about nothing more than the random connections and interconnections made by all those millions upon millions of neurons through those even more numerous dendrites that randomly spark off one another through this or that neurotransmitter?  Or is the Self more than a biochemical or even a psychochemical mass?  Whatever, the Self may be it always has a sense of being so much more.  Indeed, every human being wants his or her Self to mean more, to be more, than just a “bundle of perceptions” as the great Scottish empiricist and atheist philosopher David Hume had it.  After all, what client or patient comes to a psychotherapist, counsellor, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist with the complaint that they don’t really feel that they are being true to their “real bundle of perceptions,” or that they have not yet found their “real bundle of perceptions”?  We believe deeply that we are more.  Intuitively we grasp that the whole (Self) is always greater than the sum of its parts, greater than a mere “bundle of perceptions.”

And so for this present post I am defining myself as my memories.  At the end of any year we so love to trace what has happened not alone in the world or the country at large, but what the dying year has made of us.  Even, what all our years to date have made of us as we stand on the threshold of yet another year.

An old picture from 1945 or there abouts.  My mother is at the back on left
Memories crowd my neural memory pathways somewhat randomly, but with some little dictation from some centre of control – some area of “self-awareness.”  There I am, a three year old boy sitting on the dirt lane at the back of our house in Roscrea playing with a toy lorry and filling its trailer with lollypop bags of sand.  The old half-blind cat sits on the line pole, a great comforting presence.  The backyard is full of geranium plants.  The sting of the nettles on my legs as I run through the neighbouring fields. The fading sound of the train leaving Roscrea station with my daddy aboard, click, clack, click, clack, ...  Sad feelings.  Missing him again.  The move to Dublin. No electric light. Just candles till the power is restored.

My grandmother laid out in death in a bedroom in the old Crumlin house. I was ten. So still. Beyond us. Then and now. Only old faded photos remain. Uncle Pat’s funeral in 1970 when I am twelve.  The sound of leather shoes crushing the gravel as we followed the coffin up to its final resting place. The sound of clay falling on the wooden lid. Prayers intoned.  Men in gray coats condoling with my father. My mother comforting him in Granny Saunders’ garden when he cried. I buy ice cream for the same old woman – the oldest woman I have ever known as a young boy.  How I think she might expire at any second.  That horrible big yellow blister on her leg when she spilled boiling water on it. The time she told us that once as she dozed at the fire a mouse had run up here leg.  How we laughed.

The old Christian Brother who takes us for catechism and who tells us stories both to frighten and uplift us, though more of the former.  The smell of chalk dust mixed with stale urine, the steam that rises from wet coats as they lie draped over radiators on a rainy day.  The ice that covers the school yard making it a skating rink.  How we skate free on it before the bell tolls for class and lessons.  The young boy whose name I forget who is knocked clean from his bike to dusty death at only ten years of age.  The black hands of the old wind-up clock with Roman numerals that counts out our education in loud tick tocks.  The old brother winds it up every other day.

And there are so many other memories vying for attention with that self-aware centre of control that they could overpower, swamp and almost smother it at once, if all the controls were off.  Maybe this is the place to stop this wet last day of the dying year that is 2013.  Maybe too many memories have been summoned up.  Some centre of my inner Self has summoned them up, given them life, and shape and pattern.

Indeed how true is the opening statement I quoted from the venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman.  How we believe is as much as mystery as how we remember.  Perhaps a greater mystery is what we remember and how we choose to construct those memories, what shape and pattern, what form we may wish to give them.  That is the mystery of the Self, the centre of our identity which is an on-going construction, ever a work in progress.

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