Often it’s easy to spot heroes. The cameras and the biographies give it away. They represent something that I can look at and admire and then safely ignore. Ok, maybe I’ll make that donation or pledge that mile, and yeah, they’re amazing, but they’re not really like me, are they?
Then there are those other heroes. The ones who are going about their business with an awareness of their world, and a quiet generosity that is often more powerful. They’re not Gandhi or Geldof or Christina Noble or Paul Newman, but they just might end up having a bigger impact on me.
We met a bunch of them last week. A day of activities for families across the special needs spectrum had been organised by The Variety Club of Ireland (a hugely impressive organisation that I must confess I’ve always been aware of without really knowing the great work they do.) They called it the Boat for Hope event.
Our aim is to share a boating experience with children who have special needs, and to raise funds for their comfort and benefit. The day begins with our special young guests, dressed as mini-pirates, departing from Howth Marina for a private adventure on the high seas!
It was deceptively simple and unquestionably took a massive amount of organising, for which we can only say a massive Thank you. An awful lot of people put in a gargantuan effort to make it a special day for a lot of children and adults too.
Firstly, it was an awful lot of fun!
Full photo gallery from Barry O’Loughlin here. (I hope you don’t mind my reproducing some of the wonderful pics, Barry.)
Secondly, we met Seamus and crew
Seamus McAleese was our captain for the day, and any impressions I had about yachting clubs and posh posers was quickly blown out of the water by him and his crew. They took our entire family into their lives, were generous without ever being pushy, took great pains to tiptoe around a bunch of idiot landlubbers and explained everything in fantastic detail. The kids had a most amazing time, and so did Mum and I. The Seamuses (there were two, which caused a bit of confusion initially) answered every question I threw at them and they involved Jacob and his brothers in everything. We all took the wheel, the boys attacked a few other pirates with water cannon and another crew member Ron insisted on minding Jacob while we sat back and relaxed.
I’d had no great hopes for the day really. We only heard about it at the last minute. But it turned out to be a highlight of the year. The fantastic weather, the great spirit of everyone and the generosity of Howth Marina boat club all helped. The escapist beauty of Howth Head from the sea, and the gorgeousness of Ireland’s Eye all covered with nesting birds, were certainly an added bonus.
But if I’m to be honest, the one thing that makes this day one that will never be forgotten was the attitude of the people who took us sailing. We felt privileged to be taken by them, but they made it feel as though the privilege was all theirs. Nobody had The Look, nobody felt the need to avoid certain subjects, there were comfortable silences too (rare among strangers, no?), there was a genuine generosity on the part of people who did not know us from the man in the moon, and they were incredible. When they left us back at the marina, myself and Jacob’s mam were actually too choked by it to say anything at all.
I don’t think we’re the only ones who want to scream every so often when either of us sees yet another Normal caught unawares and looking at our beautiful youngest child with mild but undisguised revulsion. Any one of those glances can be dealt with, internalised, rationalised and packed off. But woe betide the Normal who lets that look slip out on the wrong day. It hasn’t happened yet, but once or twice I’ve come close.
I’m saying this because these wonderful people, our crew for the afternoon last Sunday, provided the most powerful antidote I have felt for that feeling. I did not expect it, I did not know them, but I know them now.
Captain Seamus is convinced that being out on his boat is the closest thing to Heaven that you can find on earth. Days like last Sunday make it easy to agree. All of them seemed to be relaxed and in the moment with each other. In among the water pistols and the sugary treasure and the attacks by other pirate vessels, we got to share some life stories that somehow managed to overstep the small chat section. Condensed goodness. And the best piece of advice I’ve heard in a long time came as a joke from Captain Seamus as we were pulling back into the harbour. He asked me with a smile if I knew how to make God laugh. The answer was to tell Him your plans.
Seamuses 1 and 2, Ron and Lisa, we think you are quiet heroes. Thank you.