May Day, May Day.

Today, May 1, 2008 is Global Love Day.
It is:

An International Celebration
Of Humanity

We are one humanity on this planet.
All life is interconnected and interdependent.
All share in the Universal bond of love.
Love begins with self acceptance and forgiveness.
With tolerance and compassion we embrace diversity.
Together we make a difference through love.

 

When I finished High School in Australia I went back to live in the UK for a bit. I actually wanted to run away and join the circus but didn’t possess adequate acrobatic ability, so I pestered my Grandmother for a while instead.

Back then I was mad at the world, at myself, at people in general. I was consumed with angst. I felt like everyone was leering at me, waiting for me to flounder. I was frothing at the mouth, stewing, curdling. When I look back now I feel like giving myself a good slap.

I began to drink, sneaking my Grandad’s Guinness or a bottle of cheap wine from the pub, drinking it in the peat fields that looked over the Atlantic, fighting off curious sheep, goats and the occasional donkey. I was sick more often than not because I was and continue to be, a hopeless drunk.

My Grandmother didn’t mince words. ‘I will not have a drunken lout in this house,’ she said. ‘You will go to church, to confession to have your sins absolved, and then you will reform. If not…’

The if not hung in the air between us like a cursor set to underline unacceptable future behaviour. I did what I always did back then when I couldn’t stand facing myself – I ran. I bought a ticket on the first southbound bus and sat glaring at the world, sulking, petrified, ashamed of my petulant behaviour.

That afternoon I arrived in a village I had never heard of, bought a sandwich and sat in the town square. It was growing cold and I only had a light jacket and not enough money for a room for the night. I wondered when the next bus back home would be, fearing I would have to sleep on the streets.

To my dismay, the next bus wasn’t until the morning. The sky was already turning purple and the cold was rising up damp and insistent, shackling my bones. I idled away several hours drinking one cup of tea in the local tea house but they closed shortly after eight o’clock. I had nowhere to go but back to the town square. I pulled an old newspaper from the bin and tried to sleep on a park bench.

After about an hour a torch was shone in my face. My first thought was: ‘Great, it’s the police, sent to find me by my Grandmother.’ But it was a rescuer of another sort.

Bridie O’Connell was a former social worker who had set up a refuge for the homeless. Every night she combed the streets looking for people with no place to go. I took in her flyaway red hair and little apple cheeks and thought I was being visited by one of the ‘little people’, a genuine Irish leprechaun.

Bridie may have been small, but she was tough. ‘Let’s be having you, then,’ she said, the tone in her voice brooking no argument. She bundled me into a van with about ten other people and drove off to a house at the edges of the village – a huge, crumbling Victorian manor with what seemed like thousands of bedrooms. It was the only refuge I have ever seen where everyone got their own room and their own bed. I slept on thick, hospital grade sheets with scratchy blankets but I remember that night’s sleep as being one of the best of my life.

In the morning, Bridie put me to work – doing laundry, collecting eggs from the chicken coop, making porridge. She insisted I call my Grandmother. We both decided I should stay with Bridie for a few days to get my head straight.

Those few days changed my life. I saw people steeped in despair, hoping again, able to see the light, regarding this woman who had taken them in with reverence. And Bridie was someone to be revered.

She had come from a very wealthy family. Her father had left her millions of pounds. She had decided to help the homeless because her father had developed dementia in the latter years of his life and had spent much of his old age wandering the streets, sleeping rough. Bridie couldn’t bear to think of another family going through what she had, so she set up the shelter.

She taught me a very important thing in the few days I stayed with her and that is that but for a simple twist of fate, of genetics, of luck, I could be that homeless, dispossessed, disenchanted person. So could you. Or the AIDS orphan in Africa, the drunken bum living on the streets of Moscow, a persecuted monk in Tibet, or a factory worker in Latin America.

Seamus Heaney sums up what I am trying to say in his poem, Ten Glosses.

Questions and answers come back. They formed my mind.
‘Who is my neighbour?’
‘My neighbour is all mankind.’

I dedicate my post to the memory of Bridie O’Connell who loved her fellow man above all else, who saw the worth in everyone despite gender, race or creed. Who believed that we are many, but we are one. I’ll never forget you, Bridie.

HAPPY MAY DAY !

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21 thoughts on “May Day, May Day.

  1. You are so right Selma. One bad decision or stroke of misfortine is the only thing that separates us from being that unfortunate soul who has lost everything including the last shred of hope in their hearts. There but for the grace of God go I. God Bless Bridie O’Connell and all the other selfless souls who take in those that have nowhere to go and give them a little dignity and comfort.

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  2. GYPSY – I think Bridie was an angel, I really do. This is slightly off the point but can you believe it’s May already? Where does the time go? Hope you are well.

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  3. Wonderful sentiments Selma, as always. This line made me chuckle:

    “I was being visited by one of the ‘little people’, a genuine Irish leprechaun.”

    Before the Vatican forced conversions, the “little people” were revered (and feared). I think they were ETs that made themselves known to those in the UK. The historical record is dotted with accounts of our other-worldly visitors.

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  4. What a wonderful post. Bridie would be pleased. In fact, I’ll bet she IS pleased. I’m very glad she found you and helped you get back on your feet. The world would be a colder place without your wonderful writing, Miss Selma.

    Also, that part about sitting in a field getting drunk and fighting off farm animals… I can’t think of when I laughed harder at a mental image. I know, it wasn’t a good time in your life, but, um, well…

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  5. A truly uplifting story Selma. You have lead such an interesting life and it’s so great that you are sharing parts of it with all of us.

    I agree, Bridie sounds like an amazing person, in so many ways. It is also amazing how a chance encounter/event can change our lives in the most unexpected ways. Wonderful post, brought tears to my eyes, so touching.
    Geraldine

    PS: MPP is still up and running, I am only taking a break from Veggies. Do stop by when you can, huggs, G

    http://www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

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  6. What a beautiful post, Selma! It echoes my beliefs in the inter-connectedness of us all. Love is the most powerful force in the Universe, when unleashed there is nothing it can’t accomplish!

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  7. Another great post.
    You are, of course, absolutely correct. It is by accident of nature that we end up where we do. Seems fitting tonight.
    Thanks.

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  8. The time is hurtling along at a frightening pace isn’t it? We’ll turn around and it will be Christmas again. Yes I am doing much better thankyou but still a little way to go before I am back to the way i was. Unfortunately this may be as good as it gets, that’s always a possibility.

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  9. How wonderful. Gosh I could feel your cold in the town square – feel those sheets and blankets in the shelter.

    Really, Selnma, how wonderful you are.

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  10. Selma, I’ve missed stopping by and finding your words, your stories as comforting and needed as an open door, a warm smile and a hot cup of tea on a blustery day.

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  11. Selma my lady:

    That story went right to the heart. There is one statement, however, I invite you to take another look at:

    “I was sick more often than not because I was and continue to be, a hopeless drunk.”

    I honestly don’t believe the concept hopeless drunk exists. I come from personal experience when I say this. I was using drugs for years to escape the misery of my life. Then I went to treatment in 1980 and stayed clean for 18 years. After a relapse, I struggled — off-and-on — for eight more years, but again found recovery. This time I won’t blow it.

    There are several ways to find help. At one time, AA was the only show in town. But today there are others. Below is a hyperlink that can help.

    http://hamsnetwork.org/alternatives/

    I love you and would like to help anyway I possibly can.

    Luv,
    G

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  12. Amazing, isn’t it, how a chance encounter with another can leave a lasting impression, open eyes or change the course of trails or tides? The greatest blessings in my life all flowed from chance encounters…

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  13. What a beautiful story and what a beautiful person your Birdie was! As I finished reading this I thought Birdie must have believed in, “Yes, but for the grace of God go I.” What a superior community service she provided – speaking of which, would you like to have this submitted for the Community Service prompt at Slice of Life? If not, it is still a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it.

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  14. “I was sick more often than not because I am and continue to be, a hopeless drunk.”

    Hi Selma, in response to Glenn’s compassionate comments above and for my own peace of mind,

    I would like to know if the above quote is serious or a bit of ironic Aussie humour – the irony being that you’re not a ‘drunk’ (or at least not a very good one – i.e a ‘hopeless’ one) because you get drunk too easily, after a glass of wine or a can of beer.

    In short, I hope you meant that you are ‘hopeless’ at being a drunk and not that you are a drunk who has no hope. Warm regards, David

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  15. What an exceptionally beautiful piece!

    Thank you so much for sharing such a deeply moving tribute; it resonates with authenticity and the same deep and genuine caring that is such a hallmark of your writing.

    I’ve meant to leave comments often before, and well – really, I have no excuse. My dear friend Ms. Karen introduced me to your writing, and my days are forever richer for it.

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  16. JOHNNY – the little people definitely walk among us. In Ireland you see little glimmers of them here and there. My Grandmother completely believed in them as well as in creatures like banshees, one of which I hope I never run into.

    PAISLEY – she was one in a million. She really cared. I won’t ever forget her!

    KAREN – actually, the farm animals made it very funny. There is nothing funnier than a curious sheep, as they sort of butt you with their heads. It always makes me smile to think of that sheep.

    GERALDINE – so glad you haven’t stopped blogging all together. I will definitely stop in to read your lovely poetry. Oh yes, chance encounters have shaped my life – mostly in very positive ways, so I am grateful for them.

    JOSIE – love is definitely a force to be reckoned with. I believe we are all inter-connected too. Love could save the world if we let it!

    MELEAH – I have gotten up to a few things in the past which at the time I was not proud of. I had a breakdown in my late teens, early twenties and completely went off the rails. But I guess that time helped shape who I am today. I can honestly say there was never a dull moment.

    NAT – oh, so nice to hear from you. Life does seem to be full of chance moments, for sure. I’m glad I ended up where I did.

    GYPSY – don’t be too hard on yourself. And if where you are right now is ‘as good as it gets’ I think that’s a pretty wonderful place to be!

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  17. NANNA – You are the wonderful one. Oh yeah, it was pretty cold in that town square. Entirely changed my view of what homeless people go through. At times it must be unbearable for them. One day if I ever get the funding or the property I’d like to set up a refuge. There are so few of them in Sydney.

    BRENDA – what a lovely thing to say. So nice to hear from you!

    GLENN – you are very kind but I guess I should have elaborated on the term ‘hopeless drunk.’ I am hopeless because I have one drink and find myself immediately intoxicated and then sick. I basically can’t tolerate alcohol at all. How lovely you are to be so concerned. I really appreciate it.

    JONAS – Amen. I agree with you 100%. And many of the people I have met by chance I have never seen again, but I have never forgotten them.

    CRICKET – I would love to do that. I’ll pop over shortly. I have been meaning to visit you but have been overwhelmed with work and other goings-on.

    LISA – it was like a miracle in a way. She was such a special person!

    DAVID – you got it in one. I guess that comment is one only Aussies would appreciate. I am also called a ‘cheap date’ on occasion because one beer can last me the whole night. I am not much of a drinker at all. I will explain my Aussie vernacular from now on. Funny how you use it without thinking, isn’t it?

    KAYT – thanks for stopping by and I have to say any friend of Karen’s is welcome indeed. I am so glad you decided to leave a comment. That is brilliant. Thank you.

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