|La Basilica di San Pietro, Roma, giugno, 2015|
And yet the existential trials of life walk with us as we make our pilgrimage. Indeed, we mostly repress those existential trials in order to survive. But there is a further "and yet" that needs to be acknowledged. That "and yet" is that the existential trials of life, and most especially death and dying are the greatest repression of modernity, as the great contemporary existential psychotherapist and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom has so perspicaciously and wisely pointed out. Let me illustrate for the briefest moment. If you are Irish or Irish-American you will be well aware of the tragic deaths of those young 21 year old J1 students from Ireland who died when a balcony collapsed recently in Berkeley California and the number of others seriously injured, especially those who suffered life-changing injuries. The trials of these last mentioned are only beginning. Or to put it in more poetic words: their pilgrimage truly begins now.
As I write, I have just read that another mad gunman - appropriately dressed in black - has gunned down countless tourists on a beach in Tunisia, among whom one Irish mother was murdered. The mind boggles. Moral evil raises its ugly head all too often. Indeed, let us add another "and yet" here: if none of us risked anything in life humanity would amount to very little. Life is about risk. Without risk it is hard to envisage any life worth living at all. How true that old proverb is: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained!" If you don't go a J1 visa to USA you miss out on a lot. I had not got that opportunity due to family circumstances and financial constraints at the time. It is a super opportunity for personal growth.
Life is fickle and chance-bound. I remember when I first started in my present school some 27 years ago that as I descended the bus at a stop near the school that a motor cyclist nearly mowed me down; that as a young four year old boy I was nearly killed by a lorry from the local bacon factory - I can still hear the screech of brakes and so on. Recall here your own near misses. We have all had near misses - some nearer than others. And yet, if we had not had the courage to venture forth, we simply would not be the people we are today, in this moment of time. That is what life is about - the courage to take risk or as the existentialists put it the COURAGE TO DARE.
There are other thoughts and feelings that throng my conscious mind, and yet like a meditator of some thirty years or more, I know that I must learn to still those thoughts and feelings, to just let them come and go as the waves of the sea, and then attempt to let them slide from consciousness and dwell in pure awareness. No easy task, that, I assure you. And yet, I believe that is the goal of life. Recently I was at a conference and a Ph.D, candidate, dedicated teacher, committed family man with wife and family and a former student of mine (who had lost both his parents when he was all too young) asked that old chestnut of a question: "What's it all about, anyway, Tim? I was brought back thirty years to Ger Smith, a teacher colleague who had asked me the same question. It was only a couple of years later that I had learnt that Ger had died of a congenital heart disease to which there was no cure. I was not then to know that man's inner tormenting question in its fullness. Today I understand it better having been through my own personal wringer of which I have written about widely in these pages, so there is no need to repeat the obvious.
And so as we journey we carry all the above questions in our backpack, and that is no harm at all. Indeed, it is a gift. Meditating on death and dying, chance and mischance, accidents and life-altering occurrences are all part of the deal. Risk is simply part of the deal with life and let us not forget that. In short, what are these pages, these writings, these reflections teaching me? Well, they are teaching me to DARE TO BE, to keep right on, or as one of my favourite singer-songwriters puts it, "to keep on keeping on." Those words as no doubt you will know are sung by the infamous Bob Dylan. That's what it's all about: to keep right on till the end of the road. Once, when my mother had fallen in her early eighties and had crawled to the wall for support. she marvelled out loud to me when I had picked her up: "I wonder is it coming near the end, Tim?" I asked her how she was and she said: "I'm fine. I slipped after dressing myself and couldn't get up, but as I knew you'd drop by at lunch time I'd only have to wait four or five hours here!" She died at 96 in a nursing home. Her whole motto was simple: "Keep going!" Or as the great poet Robert Frost once remarked rather succinctly, when asked what life was all about: "It goes on!" The same wisdom as that of most of humanity. All spiritualities teach us to live in the "now," to have no regrets about the past or fears for the future, but simply to appreciate the now. Dear reader, let us learn to Dare To Be, To Dare to Risk or to Dare to Live!! Aude Vivere!!