Closing our visit to the Deserted Village we made our way to John and Margaret’s for a cup of tea before heading back to our Spiddal lodging. For people we had only met once, and in a pub, they were thoroughly gracious and welcoming. Such is the way of Irish hospitality.
They had both grown up in this part of the island and raised their three children in this home surrounded by family. Margaret’s brother and father live in nearby houses, other family live just up the road. It is a delightful cottage that has rarely if ever welcomed American visitors and it seems we had to navigate a few stereotypes. The first several minutes of our visit were taken up with John and Margaret apologizing for how small their home is and my assuring them it is much larger than mine and entirely lovely. There were also apologies for the laundry in the bathroom and the general mess of the place, as they characterized it. It wasn’t messy. Just lived in.
Margaret excused herself to prepare the tea leaving John alone with Mia and me in their cozy sitting room complete with turf fire. An eager host he was nonetheless a bit at loose ends as to what to do with us. When I glanced at the fireplace mantle with the line of framed family photos he jumped to his feet and showed us every photo on the mantle and in the room. Photos of their three kids now making their ways in the world. And a photo of a young man in his forties dressed in jeans and a hoodie. As John handed us the photo he said it was Margaret’s brother-in-law who had committed suicide just three months ago. Mia and I sat in stunned silence as we held the framed photograph.
It wasn’t so much the fact of his suicide. I have known for years that suicide is epidemic in this country. Every year when I come over I quietly inquire if this is still the situation and every year I am told it’s actually getting worse. I have learned to be very careful around this subject because it seems so many have been touched by this tragedy. It’s the young people and more predominately the men. There is such desperation here and while a factor of the current economic situation it seems to go much deeper.
So it wasn’t the fact of his suicide that struck me. It was the profound intimacy in the sharing of it in the midst of a conversation of strangers getting acquainted while we waited for tea and biscuits. It was the anguished look in John’s eyes as he handed us the photo.
Where is the healing for this land? For these people?
As I finish this writing, sitting in a sea-side cafe, Lean on Me just came through the sound system. We all need somebody to lean on.