How the word "community" took on a whole other meaning for me during the most important Irish holiday of the year
The family which owned the hobby farm and cottages where I was staying near the smallish city of Gorey, Ireland, huddled on the driveway. I had just gotten up, cheerful as always, and was ready to head out to the pasture. The resident burro, who was recovering from injuries, was waiting for me.
Normally animated and noisy, the family was subdued. I approached respectfully, and asked if there was anything wrong, and could I help?
No, the answer came. A close-in neighbor's son had been killed early that morning when he was herding cattle. While heading up a hill, his ATV had flipped over on top of him.
He was killed instantly.
The youngest of four brothers, he was known and loved throughout the countryside. Word had spread like lightning. Everyone was devastated.
I stepped back and went out to the donkey, who was happy to see me coming. I wasn't happy at all. I didn't know at all how to be, respond.
I went horse riding that afternoon with another neighbor. Everyone knew by then. In order to drive anywhere in that part of Ireland, you passed through the tiny town which served this family and their neighbors. A one-street, one-horse town made up of a few shops, a wee church, the ubiquitous bar and a feed store. It was devoid of life.
In a stroke of good luck that I'd not seen coming, my plans to celebrate that 17% of me which is Irish landed me in that country for St. Patrick's Day, that (un)holy of all Irish holidays. I was driving to nearby Gorey, where the parade would be a bit bigger. However, every town in Ireland has a parade.
EVERY town in Ireland does something.
The next day I packed a small lunch and headed over the sweet-smelling, rolling hills, listening to Gaelic announcers on the radio discuss Trump (you didn't need to speak the language to know precisely what was being expressed). I landed in Gorey early enough to enjoy a big fat bowl of real Irish oats:
Then I was stuck. Silly me; the parade didn't begin until 3 pm, because the timing has to be perfect. Once over, everyone spills into the pubs, which open right on time to embrace the party.
I left right about then, having thoroughly enjoyed the small parade, the emerald outfits and happy kids.
As I drove back, I once again passed through the tiny town where this boy's family bought their beers.
No parade. No bunting. No screaming kids, no floats. No small, sincere school bands and cheerleaders grinning for the cameras, their faces glittered with green.
The entire town had turned out and had parked along main street. The only place open was the bar. It was overflowing.
The entire community had foregone the St. Patrick's Day celebration to have a wake, and to stand for the family's loss.
I slowed to a crawl as I passed the pub, considering what I was witnessing.
Here in a small town where everyone knows your name, everyone also shares your pain.
In America, every year, some 41,000 people die from gun violence.
Too many of those are children. As a distant daughter of Ireland, as I observed the deep care and respect expressed to this grieving family by the entire community, I realized that for them, St. Patrick's Day from here on out would be full of pain.
Just as Sandy Hook forever changed holiday season for those families and an entire state.
In America, it seems, so much of life marches straight on by, with people waiting for the Next Big Thing. The next parade, the next campaign, the next headline, the next outrage. We don't take time to mourn.
Communities allow us to mourn. Have a wake to laugh and tell tales, then weave the loss and terrible grief back into life. That ability to weave grief back into life is why there is a wake to celebrate life. It's what communities do.
Here in this tiny, tiny town, the Big Thing will be with them forever. Paint St. Patrick's with sadness forever. It will recede but never go away.
While still at the cottage, I immersed myself in new life. The lambs had just been born. The resident peacocks stared in my window and managed to scare the holy crap out of me on more than one occasion. The donkey would back up to me and ask for a butt scratch.
It wouldn't be the same after that day.
I left a part of myself on that hobby farm. The part of me which so yearns for the kind of community which will shut everything down to pay their respects. Which will close itself around a shattered family and shore them up. Find stories to remember joy. Allow for tears and laughter all at once.
I was born in a small town; small towns take care of their own where there is community.
When I got back to America, I began investing in my own community. People who know how to call the circle. People who know that I will call the circle for them. That is the Irish in me, determined to find the joy in the face of pain, the dance in the face of danger.
It might be distant now, but I am a daughter of Ireland still. I feel her weeping even as she dances a jig.
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