No need for that language

I was out meeting two friends a couple of weeks ago in Harry Byrne’s in Killester. Midweek, following an evening class I give to advertising students. Quiet couple of pints. I got to telling them the story of a recent loss.
One of my students had ended his life a week earlier. He was 22, and seemed to have everything to live for, but he took things in a different direction. I was baffled, and trying to understand what I could have done, or where I could’ve stepped in and made any kind of difference to the outcome. As I went to the toilet I was, to tell the truth, a bit angry with him. Maybe with myself too, for not spotting what became too obvious too late.
The toilet was empty, and as I stood at the urinal I surprised myself by shouting ‘Fuck you anyway, Mark’ out loud. Then a voice from the cubicle. ‘No need for that language.’ Damn. Not as alone as I thought. I washed my hands and mumbled something back about them not knowing what I really meant. The door opened, and a man in his mid, maybe late twenties stood there. He had Down syndrome.
And he was absolutely right. There was no need for that language.
Rest in peace, Mark.
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Snapped this little guy on my mum’s front yard at the start of April. In the most inhospitable crack between the front wall and concrete yard. Life keeps pushing on.

Electric Picnic and the Year of Little Magic

2012 was a whitewater raft ride in many ways. Difficulties, death and despair at every turn, or so it felt. Such wonder as there was seemed pitifully small. And yet, and yet. And yet I believe in magic. There’s too much reality around for us not to need it. I don’t trust homeopathy, but it’s quite alright to believe that fairies might step lightly among us unseen, right? They’re as real as you or me, Auntie Em, spinning on a rock here in nowhere, at 108,000km per hour, and managing on most days to successfully ignore that startling fact.

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When 30,000 or so of us come together, and the right ingredients of wantingness are there in heaps, then magic will weave its gold-threaded way into our drudgeries. For three days in early September, in a field in the middle of Ireland, we were in its thrall. The pull of Electric Picnic is not necessarily the headline acts or the music or Mindfield or Body and Soul or who you might meet. This post isn’t about that. Plenty of other bloggers have done that side of it, and better than I could. This is about magic.

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‘There is a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in,’ says Leonard Cohen, and if we’re lucky, we might be in the forest, in the dark, in the silence between the drum beats, when it pokes through and spills iridescence into the wallpapered world. It will not outstay its welcome, of course. The light that burns so brightly cannot burn for long. And that perhaps is for the best. ‘Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder,‘ warns Patrick Kavanagh, and by morning the fairies will have folded their tent and left an inexplicable blue mark in the place where their dancing feet never bent the blades of grass.


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And we swear to ourselves that we’ll hold on to the memories, that we’ll get it down this time, every shred of it, so that we can, in the bleak Novanuary, draw again on its vivid colours, the guy ropes and pennants and smells on the breeze and how it perfectly was, as though we were there once more in the Instagram of it all. We never do, of course. It Disneyfies itself in the remembering. But it happened, Auntie Em.

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High Kings

I was hoping that Electric Picnic would make a dent in a 2012 of far too much drudgery. It did. It shot an arrow of fire right into September and kept on burning into deep winter. I can feel it yet. You could say that we rented a camper van and went to a field in the middle of Ireland for three days. But I know that I was away with the fairies.

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Eileen of Denmark, thank you. :)

And thanks too Eddie J, for pointing out that fairies are indeed alive and well.

Addendum from some found notes:

Electric Picnic. A magical moment that slips through the wallpaper of the everyday world, for three mesmerising days, in a mystical gap somewhere between August and September. 

I didn’t see Patti Smith or Paul Buchanan. I missed the Strypes and LAPD, and you can add Sbtrkt to the list. Salty Dog eluded me again, off having fun in the Gruffalo woods without me. So many other acts too. I wanted to meet Jim Carroll and Willie White. John Cooper Clark took up far too little of my time. I cry a bit that I missed Donal Dineen. Sorry Aoife Flynn that we didn’t bump. I’m sure I felt your presence there. And why didn’t I jump all over John Banville when I saw him in Mindfield? And how did I miss Patti Smith and Paul Buchanan?

See, as so cleverly orchestrated by Electric Picnic, these things missed over three days will keep me occupied for the other 362. (Although today, April 2nd 2013, it looks unlikely that EP13 will happen.)

Regrets.

But yet I saw so very, very much. I saw The Roots! John Cooper Clark took up some delicious moments of my time. The Cure. Hey, the Cure! Orbital blasted me right back. Plus, I have very few fuzzy pictures of performers 400 metres away, but lots and lots of snaps of magical doors and creatures and  things. Plus plus, I saw The Roots!

And meantime, little gems like this one will turn up. I missed Fossett’s Circus again this year, but then this as I downloaded Herself’s pics from EP. Magic is there because we want it to be, and when enough of us want it to be, at the same time, then it is. 

There is a crack in everything. Don’t ignore it. Don’t wish it away. And most definitely do not attempt to repair it. It’s how the light gets in.

To the annoying per-pubescent kid from earlier today

And the pushy one

And the one who looked sullen all day

And the one with the all-messed-up hipster hair

And the fat one

And the one who looked too skinny

And the one who threw the tantrum in the gift shop

And the one on the zip wire who was so much less nervous than me

And the one with the annoying voice

And the misguided Man United fan

And the hyper one

And the graceful one

And the one with the posh voice

And the one with the funny walk

And all the others I met earlier today

Keep on being wonderful

Down syndrome couldn’t make you all the same even if it wanted to

Mr Tayto has been an icon for generations of Irish kids, since the mid 50s. Thanks to Tayto Park for throwing the doors open and giving all proceeds to Down Syndrome Ireland on Saturday 15th September. It was a meaningful gesture, and a great opportunity for everybody to be normal.

Looking for Suffering in All the Wrong Places

People with disabilities inspire fear and disgust in the able-bodied because they seem to suggest the limits to this promise. But research shows a dramatic difference between non-disabled people’s perception of the quality of life of people with disabilities and the way people with disabilities describe themselves.

That’s a quote from an article that’s a bit longer, on HuffPo Religion, by Rachel Adams. Full article is here and it’s really worth a read. Thoughtful, perceptive, pulling no punches and clarifying, certainly for me, some elementary stuff that we sometimes need reminding about, especially in this big world of normals.

Derval O’Rourke: ordinary, everyday superwoman

It’s not every day you get to mix it up with one of the fastest women on the planet but that’s what Jacob was doing yesterday. Ok, she may be an Olympian, a world champion hurdler (Gold at the World Indoor Championships over 60 metres, among a whole stack of other honours) but Derval O’Rourke, Cork speedster extraordinaire, still found time to chat to our Jacob. Well, it’s not every day she gets to mix it up with one of the slickest guys on the planet, is it? Who can blame her?

Jacob and I were just taking a breather from the bowling lanes and the heady sugar intoxication of his brother Andrew’s 7th birthday party when Derval (yeah, we’re on first name basis) came over to shoot the breeze. When the rest of the posse came out she couldn’t wait to get her pic taken with them.

I hope all that proximity to such a bunch of cool guys doesn’t turn her head this close to the Olympics. You’ve got until July to clear your head, O’Rourke. Concentrate! And good luck, you legend! :)

Check out the party dudes! Jacob and his brothers plus some buddies from our street.

A lesson in love from Down syndrome, a lesson in emotional distance regarding ASD

Two special needs stories, related, but at such opposite ends of the spectrum of acceptance that it’s hard to think they were published within days of each other, one in The Irish Examiner and the other in The Irish Times.

Regarding the first. Some of my friends with kids diagnosed with autism are furious these days and nights over a particularly thoughtless and unlovely piece of writing in the Irish Examiner by a man called Tony Humphreys. I don’t blame them. It casts them as cold parents, whose emotional response to their kids’ difficulties actually makes everything worse. I won’t add to the debate, especially since so many of these people, who I know, admire and very much consider friends, have done a sterling job in throwing cold water on  his article, and questioning the stance of The Irish Examiner in publishing it.

You can find Sharon’s take here.

This is Lisa’s take on it.

Bock.

Siobhan O’Neill guest blogs about it on Suzy’s Maman Poulet.

There’s a ton more too, and it demonstrates just how important it is that if you have a reputation and a following, as Tony Humphreys does, it behoves you to have your information clinically accurate or else you will at the very least offend people.

And then there’s this, from today’s Irish Times, written by another Tony.

Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health. It couldn’t get much further from the coldness of that Humphreys analysis of where autie parents are going wrong. I’m not going to edit it, because I think it’s worth reading the entire piece. It gets a little sentimental (Scratch that, it gets a whole LOT sentimental!) but go with it. Because as the young man said, “Ah love. It’s what bonds us all.”

I think Mr Humphreys here probably knows that, and I hope he can recalibrate the part of his thinking that fails to recognise that most parents of kids with ASD do too.

A CURIOUS thing happened to me on the Luas recently. I had been standing since boarding the tram at Heuston, but when we reached the Jervis Street stop, a seat freed up. I sat down, grateful for the rest. I was happily window gazing, when I heard a loud voice from somewhere behind me asking for “a two euro piece”. I noticed a look of disgust on the face of a woman in a nearby seat, so I turned to see what was up.

A young man with Down syndrome was making his way through the packed carriage. His beautiful open face looked distressed. He persisted in asking everyone around him for two euro, mumbling that he needed it for the bus home. I dug a coin from my coat pocket, reached back and handed it to him. Job done; back to gazing out the window.

A moment or two later, this same young man sat down in the seat beside me and put his head in his hands. Apropos of nothing at all, he blurted: “How do you stop feelin’ annoyed with someone?” This guy clearly preferred to skip small talk.

I asked him what had him so annoyed, but he wasn’t happy to talk about it. “Just someone who did something a month ago that made me mad.” And then he repeated his question to me with an even greater sense of urgency: “How do you stop feeling mad at someone?”

I asked him what it’s like to walk around holding onto anger. He remained bent over, head in hands, distressed by a feeling that wouldn’t leave. And he said: “It hurts.”

We had an audience who were monitoring our conversation with interest. Maybe this boy wasn’t alone in walking around with unresolved anger. Maybe these onlookers were asking themselves the same question: “How do I let go of my anger?”

I wasn’t sure at all what to say to this young man, but he was growing on me by the minute. I offered him a lame cliché – “Maybe you need to forgive him” – but he saw through this immediately. “No,” he said. “Tried that, didn’t work.” That put me in my place.

I remembered something about people with Down syndrome: they are more connected to their heart than most of us. So I took a different tack and suggested: “Maybe you need to love him.” For the first time since he had sat down he lifted his head from his hands, sat up, and smiled. “Ah love,” he proclaimed loudly. “It’s what bonds us all.” And he threw his arms out in front of him.

He introduced himself to me and shook my hand. The woman who had been turning her eyes to heaven only moments before, leaned over and kindly offered him her best advice: “You need to pray for him too.” Another woman sitting behind her added: “You know, no matter how bad things might be for you, there is always someone else who feels even worse.”

The thought briefly crossed my mind that this second woman – whose face revealed her to be no stranger to pain – had probably tried to console herself with this truth many times.

My new friend responded warmly to each of them, thanked them and shook their hands. The tense atmosphere that had hung in the air vanished. There we now were, all of us, no longer strangers, crowded together at the door waiting to disembark, joking about keeping our balance as the tram curved around Busáras.

In the space of four Luas stops, something had shifted for each of us. We had been wary strangers at Jervis, but smiling friends when we reached Connolly. What had made the difference? Was it the inspired advice that we had given this young man? I suspect not.

I think it was more what he had done for us. His lack of pretence, his direct openness, had disarmed us. He had allowed us for a moment to step out from behind our separate selves and experience a simple but powerful connection with one another.

It occurred to me that this young man with his so-called disability, who made a carriage cringe, was freer and probably healthier than most of us that day. While we lived mostly in our heads, our hearts hidden behind a fear of disapproval, this young man lived from his heart. And even when it hurt, he didn’t try to hide it.

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