The Encounter


Occasionally I put pen to paper and jot down my thoughts on small events which to some would be meaningless…to me they mean the world. The following took place on a bus a few years ago and this briefest of encounters held me captive for what felt like a lifetime…a very wonderful lifetime. Still I do not know who she is, perhaps I have met her since, regardless! The human heart only seeks love…belonging! This moment will live with me forever…
By apparent chance you sit beside me

I had seen you go climb up

Now here we are

Shoulder to shoulder.
Like mirror images we sit

Heads inclined, earphones in

Occasionally shifting ourselves

Growing closer.
The bus rumbles on

The sky is getting dark

I put my head back

Eyes closed.
At times I think I feel

Your eyes on me

Suddenly I am hit

With sweetest perfume.
Who could you possibly be?

This beautiful girl

With the golden hair and

Deep dark eyes?
I look in the window pane

And catch a reflection

For one eternal moment

Eyes meeting.
You reach up to fix your hair

The beautiful curve of your neck

Your nimble fingers in hair

Working magic.
The bus reaches its destination

We gather up our things

After an all too brief thank you and smile

You go…

‘Twas Beauty Saved the Beast

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Anyone who knows me will know that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast holds a particularly special place in my heart.  In fact I have blogged about this film already here on the blog and how I continue to hold this film in such high regard as I approach my thirtieth birthday (https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/approaching-30-laying-my-cards-out/)

Tonight however I have returned from seeing the latest Disney live action reimagining of a classic.  I was lucky enough to be treated to a night at the cinema by my twin sister and her wife.  We had a wonderful evening together, there was plenty of craic but I was constantly aware that the visit to the cinema would be an emotional one.  This story really does mean that much to me; so much so that it can be difficult to put into words often enough.  However I think it best to make the attempt while the emotions of the film are still fresh in my heart.  I hope that there are no apparent spoilers however if such a thing concerns you please read no further until you have seen the film!

Before I begin I should mention one of the elements to this film which I absolutely adored was that it in fact stayed truer to the source material that the 1991 version. The themes of stealing a rose, asking Beauty to dinner, the link between Gaston and the Beast…they’re all here! 

What I should like to do is to take a look at the two main characters of the film and what I have learned from them…indeed what lessons in self they have reminded me of.Emma Watson

Belle is to my mind one of Disney’s greatest heroines.  Voiced by Paige O’Hara in the 1991 classic Belle exuded a wonderful independence and passion.  It’s one of the elements of Disney I think we tend to get a bit mixed up: Belle isn’t exactly a Princess.  It is also important to remember that it is Belle who saves the Beast…on a number of occasions in fact!

Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle in this new vision is no different.  She remains independent and passionate.  However now she embodies several other qualities which while they were not lacking from the 1991 animated version are brought out in a much stronger way through this vision.  Now Belle is absolutely fearless, feminist, feminine and honest to the core.  The many dynamics which exist within the film between Belle and the three male characters in her life is deeply affecting.  She treats her father Maurice with nothing but kindness, patience and gratitude for how he has raised her; so much so that she is willing to give up her freedom and in many ways her youth for his life.  She is patient with Maurice’s numerous eccentricities and does not judge him for these, but rather uses them as an opportunity to show him how much she cares for him.  Finally she expresses her gratitude often for how Maurice has brought her up.  A beautiful example of how we are to treat our parents and those who care for us.

In regard to Gaston I believe it is in this vision that we see some of the clearest difference between the animated Belle and the live action vision.  There are certain lines of dialogue from the animated version that are now missing.  They are significant as their absence only highlights further that Belle is a wonderfully strong icon of feminine strength and kindness.  Her honesty with Gaston gives him the opportunity to grow into a kinder person, yet he constantly fights her on this.  In many ways Gaston’s fate is a tragic one as although Belle does not have any romantic attachment to him she does in fact care for him.  Who knows, perhaps she may even go so far as to love him?Dan Stevens

Finally we have the Beast.  I believe the Beast and Gaston are inextricably linked.  Masterfully portrayed by Dan Stevens this offering of the Beast is to my mind, totally different to 1991 animated version.  Why so?  Because we can witness the tragic nature of the Beast to a greater extent in this version which was not brought to the fore so much in the animated version.  We see that this is someone who was once very much a man who had it all and has had his entire identity wiped away.  This tragedy is brought to the fore in the all new song for the film Evermore (which I hasten to add I am currently learning to add to my repertoire!)  However where Beast differs from Gaston is where he begins to cease resisting the kindness of Belle but now rather seeks to complement her loving kindness.

This is represented beautifully for me in the Tale as Old as Time dance sequence in which when Belle approaches the Beast she curtsies to him.  He in turn bows deeply to her.  Neither one is in a position of authority or dominance over the other but rather recognises the other as an equal and a partner in whom to share one’s love.  The Beast brings all this up with such honesty in his song Evermore.  The power in this scene cannot be downplayed.

The great lesson this has taught me is one of humility and recognising further the real beauty of the feminine.  We men are strange creatures.  Truly there exists a Beast within each of us…including me!  What is the Beast within me?  It is the Beast of Stubbornness, Selfishness and indeed the Beast of Irrationality!  To mention a few.  However I too am blessed in that I have been able many times in my life to have the opportunity to calm these beastly qualities and turn them into something of Beauty.  It is thanks to the powerful women in my life (both family and friends) that I have been able to achieve this.  I am forever grateful to them for that.  I have needed the example set for me by many men in my life however it really is so true that the male and female do complement each other.  The beautiful feminine brings out something beautiful in we males and likewise we too can bring something out of them which may have been previously thought as hidden.  Does this make you any less of a feminist?  I do not believe so.  We need each other just as we need strong figures of those of the same gender as us in our lives.

I have been asked if I think the live action version is better than the animated version.  I cannot answer this because I am watching this film as an adult who has grown up with the animated.  For me and where I am at present in my life I cannot wait to watch this film again and see what lessons it offers upon second viewing.  However simply to close I should like to harken back to the words sang so beautifully by Emma Watson and previously Paige O’Hara:

“Ahh! Isn’t this amazing?  It’s my favourite part because you’ll see; here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till chapter three…”

Be patient with love.  Be patient with yourself, those you love and those who love you.  Eventually, come what may they will see past the Beast to the Prince that resides within.  It is entirely up to you just how deep you want that Prince to hide…allow him to come to the surface and you will be stronger for it.  Be open to love and be open to loving.  That is the greatest lesson these films have taught me and I shall be forever grateful for them.

Most importantly: find someone to share this love with!

Much love to you all for taking the time to read this!

Twitter: @DominicOReilly

Facebook: Dominic O’Reilly Writer

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The Day I Decided to Stop Caring

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Today was the day it happened.  As the sun comes up in the morning none of us can foresee what shape the day will take.  We all have our plans as to how we hope the day will pan out and what we hope to achieve yet none of us have actually any clue as to what will happen in the course of any given day.  At one point today I found myself saying that which I never anticipated myself saying: I shall not care anymore.

I’ve had enough of it.  I’m only human after all.  Showing unconditional acts of kindness to others, wearing your heart on your sleeve, being honest, trusting people, seeing the best in others, listening, offering constructive advice, going the extra mile for others, giving them the benefit of the doubt and generally just actually giving a damn for those around you.  What’s the point of it all?  Why should I go out of my way for others?  It’s a bit of a tell tale sign when there are those for whom You are the one who has to be the first to make contact with them.  I have decided to stop caring.  After all, is it worth it?  Is it worth the heartache and the humiliation?  Is it worth the actual pain of caring for another…because after all if you genuinely care for someone else, then this will cost you.  It will be painful.  So is it worth it?

Funny enough, try as I might I just can’t do it.  I’ve failed.  I have tried consciously to not care for others and yet myself just will not allow me to do so.  It is simply in my nature to.  This is what I do: I will show You unconditional acts of kindness, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I am honest, I trust You, I see the best in You, I will listen to You, I offer advice to You,  I will go the extra mile for You, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and I will give a damn about You.  I will check in with you to see how You are.  I will care for You.

But what You will not see is that this will in fact cause me pain.  It will cause me pain because to see You smile I will have had to sacrifice something of myself.  Why do I do it?  Because You are worth it.  I have tried to not care about You and my heart won’t let me.  So what am I left with?  I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing…I just know that it is and that is all there is to it.  I care about You.  Whoever You are.  Whoever is reading this please know that I care about You.

Perhaps I am a failure.  To some people to care about others is a sign of weakness or being ‘soft’.   Not so with me.  To care for other people is all I know.  My heart is on the line…please be careful with it.

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My Cry to Jahméne Douglas

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As many people will be aware a number of days ago recording artist Jahméne Douglas released a tweet in which he speaks about his life, it’s direction and his sense of brokenness.  Jahméne finishes by saying that all he has left is his desire to die.  He does not want this desire yet there it remains nonetheless.  What Jahméne has done takes incredible strength of heart and spirit.

I have chosen to pen this brief blog post simply to put forward a few words towards Jahméne in light of his recent post.  Some months ago when his album Unfathomable Phantasmagoria was released I blogged on the album for more than two week’s straight.  In that time I was blessed enough to receive communication from Jahméne thanking me for carrying out this piece of writing and encouraging me to continue with it.   As someone who has struggled for so long to find their own place in the world (and continue to do so) to receive these words of support and encouragement from this artist gave my spirit such  a lift and helped me believe that indeed my life does have a purpose.

Anyone that knows me will know that I have struggled myself with depression and anxiety over the years.  I was fortunate to receive counselling and  I cannot put into words how important this and the support of my family and friends was for me and continues to be.  While everyone of us is different  I can only say that my experience of this darkness was one in which my perspective on the world changed so drastically that I could not see a place in the world in which I wanted to exist.  Once this darkness takes hold of you it feels impossible to overcome it.  With the darkness closing in around you the path ahead seems clouded and uncertain.  How can the path ahead lead to something beautiful, true and good when all around it is veiled in sadness, bitterness and uncertainty?  How can we who have experienced this darkness return to a place of Love when so much Hurt has taken place?  It appears hopeless.  Yet in reality there is a Way.  While nothing can ever go back to the way it was we can at the very least decide what we want it to Be.  We do not have to be chained to our past or our future restricted.  We can live the life we choose and we can love it!  This is the freedom God has given to each of us.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

To Jahméne I offer these words: you do not struggle alone.  You are surrounded by love and by light.  No darkness can overcome you because as long as one speck of light remains then the darkness will always lose.  I believe that you have given us a gift in your art.  You have been a champion for those of us who are broken and sad.  You still have love to give and a cause to fight for.  You don’t have to fight this battle alone though.  Truly your light remains, however flickering it may be.

I close with the following words which were used when discussing Jahméne’s track Reach You:

As I said before I had an odd couple of days.  I have finished reading Mandy Thomas’ book You Can’t Run and I advise all to read it.  In fact I challenge you to read it.  Just be prepared for it.  I have always been a bit of a sensitive person who feels things incredibly strongly and personally…this book certainly shook me to my core and forced me to take a good look at myself.  Yet as I said in listening to Reach You I felt as though it had been written just for me.  As Jahméne beautifully attests: “There’s no shame in being afraid, in your darkest hour, you can reach out for me. Oh yes, take your time and I’ll lead the way, to a better life, a better love, old memories fade.”

Absolutely stunning.  After listening to…relistening to…and listening to some more this marvellous song I now have an item for my Bucket List…which I didn’t think I ever would!  I have said before I would like to interview Jahméne some day, but more than this, someday, some wonderful day, I would love to hear this sung live.  I want to be there and feel the music, to hear that wonderful piano theme over and over again.  I want to witness Jahméne perform his mind blowing fantastical feats of vocal capabilities which at first seem impossible!  Wouldn’t that be quite something?

Please Jahméne, we love you.  I beg you…I want to Reach You.

Blessings

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Approaching 30 – Laying My Cards Out

beauty-and-the-beast-disneyscreencaps-com-7353Some of my earliest memories of growing up take place while watching a film – whether at home (seeing Scream for the first time at home in 1997) or in the cinema.  The first film I saw in the cinema was an animated feature called Rock – a – Doodle.  To this day it is still a remarkably enjoyable show.  However my main memory of being utterly enthralled by the cinema was in 1991/1992 sitting in a dark cinema screen at Yorkgate, Belfast and watching what remains my favourite film of all time; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  From those opening moments of memory accompanied by a soft piano, up to the absolute majesty of the film’s iconic ballroom scene Tale as old as Time to the film’s ending I was sat in absolute awe of the magnificence of this spectacular piece of filmmaking.  Who could forget the first time they saw the camera pan down through the ballroom and catch a glimpse of the glass ball at the bottom of the chandelier?  Who was not sitting with an open mouth as we took in the full scope of the scene and it’s meaning?  As I left the cinema that day I think I knew, even at that young age of four or five years that cinema would be one of my great loves in life.

This remains true today.  My love for cinema has only grown over the years.  While at university I studied Film Studies and found myself appreciating the craft more and more.  To be honest I actually preferred the theory of film more so than the actual process  of making a film.  As I look back I see that even now I am still just that child sitting in the darkness watching their thoughts and feelings being projected onto a great screen for all to see.  To this day when I am feeling emotions or feeling unable to put words to feelings my first stop is to put on a film which reminds me that such feelings and experiences are natural and that I am not alone in my joys or sorrows.  This seems to be happening more and more often as I approach my thirtieth birthday.

Up to this point I have been thinking forward to my thirtieth with a relatively balanced mix of boredom and mild disinterest.  It’s just another birthday.  What is so different about it if anything?  Yet as the date approaches I realise that my level of disinterest and boredom is fading and giving way to a heavier dose of panic!  My go to film when this happens is the classic romance When Harry Met Sally.

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There is a really wonderful scene in this film in which Sally (Meg Ryan) experiences a similar moment of panic when she hears that an ex-boyfriend is going to be married.  She has a dawning realisation that when they were together it wasn’t that her boyfriend didn’t want to get married but rather he didn’t want to marry her.  If you’re like me then this moment of the film will reduce you to tears.  What an awful feeling that must be.  She goes on to tell Harry about she is going to be forty soon and what has she got to look forward to?  It’s a remarkably powerful scene.  As she goes through a checklist of her (apparent) faults Harry takes each one and doesn’t so much refute them but rather shows how much he cares for her with these characteristics.  He sees the good in one who cannot see the good in themselves.  How beautiful.  The more I watch of this film the more I find myself telling myself that this is what I want in my life.  Nothing more than to love and to be loved.

I was having a conversation with a friend today and we were discussing family life.  Something which has struck me quite strongly of late is the following: if a couple are talking of their hopes to have a child then this is all fine and well.  If a single woman wishes to have a child or adopt a child then she is celebrated for being a strong figure of womanhood – and rightly so!  However what would be the response if a man said that he wanted a baby; if he wanted to adopt a child alone?  Would this be celebrated?  I don’t know…but it has certainly left me with much food for thought.  I hope to be a father someday…no, that doesn’t express it properly.  All I want is to have a family of my own eventually – to love them and accept their love for me…that is all.  To love and be loved.  I don’t think that is too much to ask.

What this means is that this desire and drive will impact significantly on any relationship I enter into.  That is a bullet which cannot be dodged and any relationship I enter into will involve throwing these cards out for the other to see.  It doesn’t mean I plan on marrying every girl I go on a date with but rather it simply means that I must treat every one I encounter – family, friend, stranger, etc – with a total self giving love should I wish to be prepared for what I pray will occur someday.  Unfortunately this raises it’s head more than ever as I approach my thirtieth birthday.  For crying out loud even the Beast managed to achieve this by his 21st birthday!

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  I know what I hope and pray it has in store but I cannot say with any degree of certainty.  None of us know what tomorrow will bring.  However what I do know is that every day before I lay my head down to sleep I offer up my prayers for the day.  They vary from day to day however one which will be included every day is this simple prayer:

“Dear Lord; please give me the grace tomorrow to be a better man than I was today.”

As I approach my thirtieth birthday I hold onto a few worries and mild regrets.  However they pale in comparison to the potential of what could be.  Who knows, this time next year I could be married, engaged, preparing to be a father…or maybe even just still single.  There is also the possibility that I will not be here at all.  Regardless, wherever I end up let it always be known that as I approach my thirtieth year (which is significant let’s not lie!) that I will never give up hoping, I will never give up praying and I will never give up loving.  Let my life be one where I love till I have nothing more to give.

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The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes – Making a 50/50 Choice

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When you look in the mirror what do you see?  Is the face that looks back at you one that you recognise?  I don’t know about you but when I look in the mirror a great deal of things look back at me.  Dotted around the frame of my mirror are a number of cards, photographs and trinkets.  There are holy cards, a postcard sent from my nephews on one of their family holidays, business cards and one very special bookmark.  On this bookmark are the photographs of my maternal grandparents.  My four grandparents were truly wonderful people and each of them, in their own wee way, taught me important lessons for life.  More importantly than that they extended their love to me and each of their grandchildren in miraculous ways that only grandparents can.  One of the greatest gifts they gave to me was an invitation to be a part of a remarkable journey to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes whose feast day we celebrate today, February 11th.

Now normally, I don’t write because I hope lots of people will read what I have written.  I write because I write and I love to write because I love to write.  However, today I hope a great many people will read the words which follow and will take them to heart.

Tonight after I got home from work I began to watch a movie which I had always planned to watch but had never got around to.  The movie is 50/50 and is the story of a young man (not much younger than I) who finds out that he has an advanced form of cancer which has taken hold of his spine.  The story tells of how he deals with his treatments and the question of whether he will live or die is constantly hanging in the air throughout the film like some sort of sickening sword of Damacles.  For anyone who has not seen the film I shall not spoil the ending but rather implore that you watch this film which celebrates the raw beauty of life.  The real miracle of this story is found in the people who surround the man Adam.  We are given the lives of his best friend who in his own way has Adam’s best interests at heart, the life of his mother and father who are coping with struggles of their own, the young doctor who must walk alongside Adam and his girlfriend.  Each of the characters in the film exemplify the lives of many people in the world today who are living with the many struggles cancer and other illnesses present.  As I watched the film I began asking myself, where do I see myself in this film?  Who do I identify with the most?  The answer startled me.  The answer was Adam.

5050I am fortunate in that I am not living with any illness, thank God.  In fact I am remarkably healthy and am incredibly blessed in that I have never had to make an extended stay in hospital.  I don’t even think I’ve ever broken a bone.  However the reason why I identified with Adam was because it is not until near the end of the film that Adam recognises the importance of the people who surround him and how the illness he is living with is also impacting on their lives.  Every one of the characters in this film are just trying their best to endure this awful sickness.  Suddenly Adam shakes free of the boundaries and constraints he has placed on himself previously.  Things don’t necessarily have to be a certain way…we are each of us free to make the best – or worst – of whatever situations we find ourselves in throughout our life.  It’s a 50/50 choice essentially.  In my own life I have made such choices.

One of these was my response to the invitation made to travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.  This response was made thirteen years ago.  Lourdes is a remarkable place.  Every year when I make the pilgrimage it never fails to amaze me the many people who make the pilgrimage who are living with an affliction of the body or the mind.  Every one who makes this pilgrimage does so with their own intentions and aspirations.  While there have been – and continue to be – many documented stories of miracles taking place in this wonderfully holy place the real message of Lourdes is not (to my mind) merely the ending of physical sickness.  Rather the message of Lourdes is penance and the reflecting of the glory of God.  While in Lourdes the sick and infirm will be afforded the highest honour and the inherent dignity of every person will be recognised.

I continue to make this journey every year as a member of the Brancardiers within the diocese of Down and Connor (to find out more detail about what this entails  please read my blog post attached here: https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/to-mercy-through-pain/ )and every year I cannot help but feel I have received more than I have given to those I have met on the pilgrimage.  It is very strange.  Perhaps this is why I identify with Adam in the above film…because I do not see the impact my life has on the lives of others.  Here’s the important thing though: just because I am not ill does not mean I do need the message of Lourdes any less than any one else.  Lourdes is for all.  I suffer in my own ways on a daily basis.  One of the ways I suffer is through a general unknowing of where I belong in the world.  Yet every year when I return to Lourdes and sit at the Grotto of Massabielle I feel that still small voice in my heart remind me: whatever else happens, you are welcome here.  You are needed here.  Maybe that should be enough for me.

wp-image-872458178jpg.jpgTruly Lourdes is a place in which miracles are born.  I say born because what I find so miraculous is that when we on this diocesan team return home the importance of that week in Lourdes journeys with us and our work as Brancardiers, Handmaidens, Doctors, Nurses, Choir, Clergy, Youth Team and more continues as we walk alongside all those we meet on a daily basis.  Each of us has our own job to do and our own role to fulfil and sometimes it doesn’t plan out the way we had hoped or the way we necessarily want…but we still have that 50/50 choice.  We can at least make the best – or the worst – of our given experience.  You can too.  You can be the reason why someone smiles today.  Please be that reason.  You may not ever know just how important you were to that person at that particular time but they do.  Be the miracle.

Each of us may get the 50/50 choice in life but we only get one chance at life.  It is here and it is now.  You – whoever you are and wherever you are – have the chance to make it a good one.  It is actually remarkably easy but you are yourself a wonderful creation.  Just be yourself.

More Love!

Life’s a Beach…get on with it!

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So as some people who follow this blog may be aware I have been on a bit of a social media detox this weather.  I have been trying to remove myself as much as I can from using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and indeed WordPress.  I am allowing myself to make one post per day.  Unfortunately this means that when I post something to Instagram it generally directs the post onto Facebook and Twitter as well, so I am incredibly limited in what I can post! I don’t think this is any bad thing as it means that all these intensely heated debates which are raging all over social media can be avoided.

As part of this detox I am also trying to detox my body as well.  I am drinking larger quantities of water, getting out into the fresh air more and continuing to try and build myself up once more.  I suppose the hope for this is that by detoxing myself of these external stimuli then my internal headspace will be clearer and my faith life will be reinvigorated.  Sort of like doing a spring clean and opening up the windows and doors of the house to allow the fresh spring air to permeate every part of the house.  Or as Saint John Paul II would say, “Open wide the doors to Christ.  Do not be afraid!”

Today I had arranged to make a phone call with a dear friend of mine.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone and take a walk while making the phone call.  I don’t know about you but it’s tricky enough to maintain a conversation over the phone while you’re out walking.  My arm kept getting tired holding up the phone and I had to keep switching arms and so forth.  It was bothersome!  So in go the earphones and handsfree and I could chat away to my heart’s content.  This for me is a strange experience.  I can’t imagine how it looks to the passerby on the street or how loud I am speaking without being aware of everyone else being able to hear!  But we managed the chat all the same.  As usual our conversations turn to deep and meaningful matters which was again a strange experience because it feels like your walking along discussing these matters out loud to a voice in your head…a bit like prayer.

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As we finished our chat I had reached the turning point in my walk and was making the return home.  To do this I had to walk the length of Newcastle strand out as far as Murlough bay.  It’s a walk I have done many times over the years and is one I absolutely lovdsc_0009e.  It is a very interesting stretch of beach to walk alone as well.  You can just take your time, or walk as quickly as you like, stop and look around or sit and simply be.  My experience of my walk this time involved stopping every so often as I managed to find a seashell which I thought quite pretty.  As I stopped to collect the shell and place it in my pocket for bringing home a tidal wave of memories came flooding back to me of when I was a child and our family would holiday in Donegal.  Now, I don’t know about you but when I was a child if I found a seashell I thought of as particularly pretty I would absolutely have to bring it home to show my mammy or daddy because who has ever seen a shell quite like this one!?  Nobody has! No shell has ever existed that is as absolutely gorgeous as this one!  This was my thinking today when I would find the occasional shell on the beach as I walked along.  One of my pockets was soon overflowing with big and small shells and a little stone as well.  This all got me to thinking…

Isn’t it amazing to think when we walk along the beach and we find these tiny shells which seem so small, fragile and insignificant that there is indeed a reason for their existence?  This tiny little shell once housed a little crab.  Said crab moved out of the shell when he was bigger and moved into a bigger one.  The shell’s reason for being was not known until a certain point in time.  For the crab to remove itself from the small shell must have been a difficult enough experience but if it is to grow and live its life to the full this was a change, a metamorphosis almost, which had to take place.  This little shell which is left on the beach is just sitting there, seemingly useless now.  Yet along comes a young man who looks upon it and thinks to himself, “I have never seen such a beautiful shell! It’s absolutely perfect.”  The young man then takes the time to appreciate the rough and smooth areas of the shell, its sharp edges and blunt sides, its colours and shapes.  It is magnificent.

Now imagine for a second your own life…in fact since I cannot presume anything about your life I can only speak for my own and perhaps there will be something here you can identify with.  My life at times can appear small, fragile and insignificant.  Yet my head and my heart both tell me there is a reason for my existence.  Perhaps I am shelter for someone who will move onto bigger and better things some day.  Yet for the duration of time in which that person is in my life I will have provided a safe haven for them and encouraged them to grow and live their life to the full.  MY little life lies sitting on the beach of life so often and may appear seemingly useless now.  Yet along comes someone who looks upon my life and thinks to themselves “I have never seen such a beautiful life!”  They will then take the time to appreciate the rough and smooth areas of my life, they will notice the moments of sharpness, all my changing colours and ways of being and still appreciate it for what it is and they too will be transformed.  If you have such a person in your life who can see you in this way then this is something to embrace fully.

I don’t.  But I still recognise in other people these elements.  This ability to see the whole person is possible and occurs on a daily basis.  Even if you think you don’t have such a person in your life then allow me to tell you  this great big not-so-secret secret!  There is someone who looks upon you and thinks that you are, with all your flaws and failings, with all your differing moods and ways, absolutely Magnificent.  There is a reason for your existence.

Life really is a beach.  There is no one singular way you can make the journey home.  There is no one set path.  You just have to do the best with what God gave you and hope for the best in the decisions that you take.  I ask courage for my heart to take risks, and to risk being vulnerable.  This coming Tuesday the universal Church will recognise the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales.  Saint Francis is the patron saint of writers and journalists and is my second favourite Saint Francis!  He tells us that “whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love.”  As I walk this beach of life I pray to have the humility to know that I am a mere shell, but I am just as important as anyone else.  Whatever I do, whoever I meet I pray that I encounter them with Love.

I am indeed striving to be a better man.  This has been my nightly prayer for the last while and will remain my daily prayer from now until whenever: May I be a better man tomorrow than I was today.  Amen.

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Stormont: We Got what We Paid For

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So here we are with a brand new year for Northern Ireland.  The election year that was 2016 has seen a new Executive up at Stormont and a new Opposition.  The people of Northern Ireland were promised that this new Executive would be the one that would definitively bring Northern Ireland forward into the twenty first century and the people of Northern Ireland voted for it…

Well not quite.  In fact only 54% of the people of Northern Ireland turned out on voting day to cast their vote.  The remainder did not…for reasons I will not begin to understand.  It’s not like your vote really matters is it?  No because if you don’t exercise your democratic right then you can rely on the rest of the country to do it?  Surely.  What have we been given then?  Another crisis funnily enough!

The RHI debacle rages on and now the frustrations of the people of Northern Ireland are showing no signs of stopping.  Arlene Foster remains resolute in her position as First Minister.  The SDLP brought a motion forward in December calling for her to stand aside and allow an inquiry to take place.  Sinn Fein would not support this.  Instead they wanted to…bring forward their own motion calling on Arlene Foster to step aside while a full public inquiry could take place…but it might actually be an independent investigation…or it could be an inquiry, or not…nobody, including Sinn Fein it would appear, really know what Sinn Fein want to happen in this regard.  Meanwhile the DUP ministers and elected MLAs go on television and radio broadcasts to express their outrage at…the media.  Though nobody is quite sure anymore as to who is to blame for this particular crisis.  It could be the media, or it could be those pesky rogue and renegade nationalists who Ms Foster was so cautious of a few months ago…it might be the fault of Republicans or it could just be the fault of men because Arlene Foster is Northern Ireland’s first female First Minister and Lord knows how angry this makes all of us.  Maybe we could just blame the Civil Service?  At least paramilitary groups claimed responsibility when they carried out one atrocity or another.

Meanwhile the current Economy Minister and Finance Minister were working together before Christmas to come up with a robust strategy to ensure that the cost to the people of Northern Ireland in the wake of this crisis was minimal.  Today we find out that the Economy Minister Super-Simon Hamilton has come up with a strategy to solve this crisis…and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir found out about this strategy when he tuned into the news yesterday!   We were told by everyone’s favourite Sammy Wilson MP today that this is commonplace practice and that Mr Hamilton didn’t need to make Mr  Ó Muilleoir aware of his plans…Mr Wilson also needed to remind us that the DUP were not going to be dictated to by the likes of Gerry Adams!  Meanwhile the Justice Minister Claire Sugden has apparently disappeared off the face of the planet!

Where does it leave us?  We’re in a funny sort of state of limbo at present which is all rather uncertain until the Executive resumes duties on the 16th January at which time we will see what proposals exactly Sinn Fein will bring to the floor and whether or not the other parties will endorse it.  Are we heading for another election?  Who knows.

I am so frustrated about all these goings on at present that I am struggling to put the words together in my head about it all.  Before Christmas it was all referred to as farcical but now the farce seems to have turned into some sort of afternoon soap opera which shows absolutely no sign of stopping.  So what are we going to do about it all?

Here is my suggestion…strange as it may sound because I’m not a politician.  But perhaps that is what makes me someone who should raise their voice given that it is through the actions and inactions of certain politicians that we find ourselves in this particular crisis (until we reach our next one!)  summaryoz_3038737bI would suggest that we take out example from the Wizard of Oz!  Yep!  You heard it right.  There are three vital things which are missing from our current Executive: Brains, Heart and Courage.  It’s so simple really!

I look at the current Executive and I do wonder where is the thought process to make a sensible decision for Northern Ireland?  Where is the heart to do the right thing even if it means having to work alongside people who were once thought of as your enemy?  Where is the courage to put your pride to the side and really do what a politician is elected to do: represent the people who elected you!

At this stage I think we’re pretty stuck.  I do not see Arlene Foster going anywhere at present.  But there is something which we as a people of Northern Ireland can do!  Funnily enough it is the same thing I suggested just before election when I was campaigning for my South Down SDLP MLAs.  It is precisely this:  get involved!

“The people are the majority, and the will of the majority is sovereign.”  (Aristotle, ca 335 b.c)  Aristotle spoke these words some 2300 years ago and they are just as important today as they were then.  So here is what I propose: find a political party that is aligned to your views and sign up.  They don’t necessarily have to be an exact fit because one of the joys of politics is that if you have the brains, the heart and the courage you can have wonderful things called discussions in which all manner of ideas and thoughts can be brought forward and the views of everyone can be respected.  What you see then is that just because someone has a differing view to you this does not make them your enemy!  But rather it makes them someone who you can learn a great deal from and they can learn from you!  

We the people of Northern Ireland deserve a better kind of politics and a damn sight better breed of politician that some of the ones we have at present.  We deserve better than people who will use the political arena to further their own ego, whether they admit it or not.  We need to champion the fantastic politicians who really are there for the right reasons…believe me they are there and I have seen them first hand!

So get involved.  Get in touch with your local branch, get in touch with your councillors, your MLAs and even your MPs.  These are the people who you voted in so put them to work!  If you want Northern Ireland to work then you have to make it work too.  Persist with them, make sure they give you an answer to your questions.  Debate with them!  Scrutinise them!  Don’t be fobbed off!  Tell them your view and why you hold that view to be true.  Hold close to your principles and take a principled position.  Do not listen to the lie that says in politics you have to leave your principles at the door.  We are not tied to the horrors of the past and we are not constrained by this anymore.  We can and we must do better.

Three years ago  I signed up to join the SDLP.  I do not take my membership of this party lightly and I carry my card with honour.  You can too.  Just get up and get active!

Oh Death Where Is Your Sting? 2016 and Celebrity Deaths

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The year of 2016 has been a very strange one indeed.  At the end of the year it is only natural to look back on what has occurred over the last twelve months and try to make sense of it all.  If the year has been favourable to us we will look back and give thanks for all that was good.  If the year has not been so favourable we may find ourselves looking back and wondering; where did it all go wrong?  This year has been one in which many would argue has been particularly difficult.  Why so?  Because at every twist and turn we seem to have been greeted with news of the death of another figure of note.  Call them them what you want: icons, celebrities, legends etc.  Whoever they were and whatever they did at the end of the day they were nothing more or less than you or I; they were people.

The hard truth of the matter is that – simply put – death is a part of life.  Unfortunately there is just no avoiding it.  There will come a day when each of us – at one stage or another – will die.  The interesting thing about those who have died this year have been celebrated in one way or another through mass social media.  After their passing internet blogs, the Twittersphere, Facebookland, Instagram etc, every one of these has been ablaze with prayers in memory of those who have died, messages of condolence for those who have died and many memories or thoughts on how the deceased has impacted the life of the person.  I’ll not lie, in my mind it has been utterly beautiful to watch.

The most recent of these has been the death of Carrie Fisher.  This remarkable woman gained notoriety for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars trilogy of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  She would reprise her role in the last years addition; The Force Awakens.  More than this though Ms Fisher became a beacon for so many over the years through her tireless work in raising awareness of mental health issues.  So often when we think of those who have earned the title “celebrity” we think of those who star in reality tv shows and have become well known for their headline grabbing behaviour as opposed to how they have been a positive force for the world around us.

What does it say about our society when such Icons pass away and we mourn the loss of people who we may not have even known personally?  Don’t get me wrong; I was deeply upset on hearing  of the death of Sir Christopher Lee some years ago – Knight, Sith Lord, Wizard, mythological vampire, metal musician and more!  Upon seeing such posts online there will be much discussion as to why are you mourning the death of someone you have never known, why do you celebrate celebrity culture and all the rest.  Yet it would be my view that upon the loss of such a figure we are perfectly entitled to feel a sense of loss and sorrow upon the death of such a person.

Take me for example; I have already spoke of what Carrie Fisher meant to me.  I was also impacted upon hearing of the deaths of such people such as comedienne Victoria Wood.  As we have grown up these people have taught us many lessons in life and indeed love.  In a world so marred with struggle and sorrow those who can provide laughs are indeed people to be treasured.  When they die it does feel like a vey beautiful light has gone out.  What do we do with this grief though? 

We can sit down on the sofa and watch rerun after rerun of their work and lament what a brutal year this was.  We can stand round on New Year’s Eve and cry both our eyes and hearts out that this year, ‘things will be better’.  The irony is of course that we have no control over what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow may indeed be the day in which posts begin to circulate online as to my own passing.  I certainly hope it won’t…but it is still a possibility.  So what is the answer?  What are we to do?  My response to this is to be found in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  In chapter fifteen of this letter Saint Paul discusses rather explicitly the matter of death and what comes after.  There is some real beauty in this particular passage and material which should give us hope for the new year.

In this chapter Saint Paul speaks of death and his own imperfections and sinfulness (something I myself can identify substantially with!) and while I would recommend to those reading this that you read all of what Saint Paul writes in this particular chapter of his letter, I should like to draw attention to a particular passage, in which this remarkable saint writes:

“And as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly one.  What I am saying, brothers, is that mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God: what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable.  Now I am going to tell you a mystery: we are not all going to fall asleep but we are all going to be changed, instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet is going to sound, and then the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed, because this perishable nature of ours must put on imperishability, this mortal nature must put on immortality. 

And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: Death is swallowed up in victory.  Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law.  Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So, my dear brothers, keep firm and immovable, always abounding in energy for the Lord’s work, being sure that in the Lord none of your labours is wasted.” (1 Cor 15: 49 – 58)

Aren’t these words beautiful?  They give me great hope for the new year because they remind me that those who have died will – please God – be raised up again one day and we shall see each other as we truly are.  We will be reunited with the ones we have loved and lost (temporarily).  Many icons of the past have passed away this year, but that doesn’t mean the lessons we have learnt from them have to die with them.  We can celebrate them in our daily life and can try to live out the messages of love and hope we have learnt from them. 

So let this be my new year’s resolution: let that which is past be past.  Whatever is to come will be but let my faith be in Jesus Christ.  In Him alone is where I find my hope and strength.  Perhaps tomorrow will be the day in which God will call me home.  If indeed it is then know that I have done my utmost to live a life of love.  But do not mourn and do not grieve for too long.  My hope is in Jesus and I pray that he will welcome me home as a loving son.  Please God though this day will not happen for many years to come.

I know the future look uncertain at this stage – I myself am concerned for what will be.  But I hold on to hope.  I look at those around me and I smile knowing that I am surrounded by the love of my family and friends, not to mention the love of my family in Heaven.  What gives me the greatest hope for the new year is quite simply this:

“Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now?  Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.  I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16: 31 – 33)

Let every day of what remains of 2016, what will be in 2017 and all the days of your life be nothing less than a blessing.  Let every one be a miracle.  Your life is a miracle…cherish it!

My Anxiety – A Little Insight

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This was a very difficult post for me to write but is one I felt was important…

So much of my life is interior.  My interior life is a funny thing.  I wish to share a brief glimpse into it with you.  To those around me I can be the very life and soul of the party and I can be a calming presence amidst the storms and uncertainty of life.  I can be the ear which is ever open and ready to listen to anyone who brings a worry, concern or something they are joyful for my way.  I think generally people enjoy being around me…at least I hope they do.  They tell me they do.  There’s nothing I love more than spending time with those that I care for, making new friends, and just enjoying being in the presence of wonderful people. For a brief space of time my gaze can be focussed solely on one person and my every effort, interest and care will be for them.  This moment can last for a matter of minutes or perhaps a prolonged period of time.

But when the party is over and you and they are gone everything changes.  When I am alone my gaze which previously had been directed at someone else will now turn inward and I cannot help but look at myself.  While previously I had been able to see all the good things in another it’s now as though I can suddenly find it easier to identify many negative things about myself…or at least what I perceive to be negative things about myself.  This way of internalizing and being anxious about things or people is actually quite pertinent to my faith and is something  I can’t seem to stop myself from worrying about.  Not to mention the absolutely exhausting feeling when I know I have to go somewhere where there’ll be a large crowd. 

Suddenly I find myself worrying.  So many times I’ve caught myself walking down the street and worrying about something and then in a moment I’ll stop and ask myself “What was it I was worrying about?  I can’t remember…” so then I’ll find something new to worry about.  I worry about things I’ve said to other people, things I have done or not done for others.  Things I could have done and things I never will be able to.  It’s as though my mind is constantly running and scanning the conversations and interfaces of the day and checking if I have made any colossal errors over the course of the day.  It’s absolutely exhausting.  When I climb into bed at the end of the day I just want to lay my head down and forget about everything I’ve worried about and yet and all something new will pop into my head…of course.

The really difficult thing is in those moments of seeming to really care about someone, when they are gone it is as though my life has lost a certain degree of purpose and meaning.  I find myself missing them to an inordinate degree.  What more could I have done to let them stay a while longer?  What did I say to them that may have upset or offended them?  I must have done something.  The loneliness at times like this is absolutely excruciating as it feels like I’m being torn between a number of potential directions.  In this time it feels as though my heart could actually skyrocket from my chest and go to the one it yearns for in that moment.        

This mindset of mine is tricky enough at the best of times but it is particularly difficult now in the epoch of mass social media.  Now at the touch of a button or tap of a screen I can view old posts about something I was doing this day x-number of years ago.  For me this is incredibly painful because I am instantly brought back to those wonderful moments.  I remember how people made me feel in that moment, I remember how grateful I felt to those who made me feel wonderful for a brief spell of time and needed (and then I worry that I didn’t express this to them…naturally!) and I think to myself…I’ll never have it that good again.  How could I let that moment pass by?  Why do I keep making the same mistakes over and over again?  Not only this but I can now view pictures of what other people are up in their life now and see how they’re getting on…everyone else seems to be doing alright.  It’s like that old song; everybody’s making it big but me.  On top of all this if I send someone a message online or through text I can now archive them and read them back to myself…this can produce any number of feelings, ranging from mild interest, cringing, or absolute absolute pain.  It’s so bizarre.  I tell myself this is is unhelpful to think like this but it’s very difficult not to.

More often than not it feels as though my day is pieced together with various music scores, soundtracks, individual quotes from films which seem to sum up how I’m feeling.  The reason why I write this now is simply to share this brief glimpse into the way my mind works to those that may be interested.  Why should anyone be interested?  Because it’s good to talk.  Of course as soon as I post this I’ll begin to worry about whether or not I should have, or how people will react to it etc.  It’s exhausting.  I have never sought to hurt another person…seriously my heart quite simply would not allow me to.  I think it is for this reason that when I do hurt someone then I feel it in an altogether different way and must do everything I can to try and make it right.  It is exhausting.  I guess my hope in writing this is that someone else who is struggling with a mindset that internalises and personalises absolutely everything and struggles with their own anxiety will read this and know that they are not alone in their struggle…and if I can listen to you I will.  On top of all this I want to thank all my family, friends and indeed followers who have given meaning to my life and provided light in moments of darkness and uncertainty.  Never underestimate the importance of your life, particularly in relation to another person’s.  Be kind to each other…I know how much I blame myself for (it’s just the way I am) so  I can’t imagine how much other people do.

It really is ok not to be ok…by my God it is exhausting. I don’t want to be lonely all the time…Please be good to yourself.

#PrayWithMe #PrayForMe