Thoughts on an Irish Funeral

I never cease to be amazed by the warmth and support offered by neighbours, friends and families at Irish funerals. My appreciation of this warmth was brought back to the forefront of my mind when I very recently undertook the sad journey to the home of a man who had tragically died in a farm accident.

As we neared the house we were greeted by a small army of volunteers, clad in reflective gear, and directing traffic into a nearby field which had been offered as a space where visitors could safely park their cars.  Outside the house, a sturdy temporary shelter had been constructed with scaffolding supports to protect arriving visitors from any harsh weather that might occur during the two days when the body of the deceased person was reposing in the house.

Another army of volunteers provided tea, sandwiches, biscuits and cakes for the very many hundreds of neighbours and friends who streamed through the small premises during this period in advance of the funeral proper. In ireland, this time of waiting, visiting, praying and offering comfort to the relatives of a deceased is called a “wake”.

The tragic circumstances of this man’s death did not add to the number of visitors nor did it distinguish the procedure from what is the normal custom in rural Ireland.  Some years ago,  on the death of my own mother in law, the same care, attention and consolation were lavished upon her family by all comers on just the same scale.  On that occasion, one of the most moving sights on the way to the house where “Gran”, as we all lovingly called her, was laid out, was the sight of her neighbours digging her grave in the nearby cemetery, a tradition that is still common in rural Ireland, a meaningful tribute of love paid to a deceased neighbour.

Nor is this comforting confined to rural areas. My brother in law died in a large Irish town some years ago and his death was accompanied by a huge outpouring of support and grief from the many people who knew and loved him.

This natural friendliness and support offered to a grieving family is something to be treasured in a world where death and its formalities tend to be anaesthetised.   The final departure of any of us is a time when warmth and support is required, clinical attention to the removal process is just not sufficient.  Long may these traditions last as a comfort to families who have lost loved ones.

Tony Brady – Dublin – 1 October 2016

Share Button

Gratitude for Jobs Well Done

I am overwhelmed time and again by the sight of people doing a good job.

You might ask “Well isn’t it only right that they would do a good job? Are they not being paid?” Yes, of course, that is the case, but the skill and efficiency of people at their work is a constant source of amazement to me.

I am someone who finds it trouble to put a nail into a wall, who requires all kinds of gadgetry to enable me to horizontally attach a shelf to a wall. I would need excavation equipment just to lay down a simple path, and I have succeeded in putting together a TV stand from Ikea and finding myself with an alarming number of screws and bolts left over. I caution against sitting on the edge of this gravity defying construction.

So, when I look out my window these days and see workmen arriving before 7.30am at a house across the road to carry out extensive renovations as efficiently as they appear to do, it is a source of wonder. And in our own house, we have been blessed with plumbers who make plumbing seem like child’s play, tilers who make tiling a dawdle, carpenters who make the re-alignment of locks and doors not just a game of chance.

Quite a few of the people who are the objects of my praise and admiration are from abroad, sometimes referred to as “non-nationals” or, more disparagingly, “foreigners”. Without myself falling into the racism trap, I have to add that the work ethic I have seen demonstrated by people who have come to Ireland from abroad to seek a living, is an example to any of us born here on our green island. Then again, people who tear themselves way from home so as to build a new and better life abroad have a motivation that the easy-going and less ambitious among us can often lack. Fair play to them for packing their lives into their suitcases and setting out in search of better prospects. We are all the inhabitants of one world, and every one of us is, thankfully, very different from every other.

So today I give thanks for all good work and for all good workers who amaze me by their skill.

Tony – Dublin 20 September 2016

Share Button

Thank Your Lucky Stars

If you have the technology to listen to or read meditations such this you are among the most privileged people ever to have walked on the face of the earth and among the most privileged people alive today.  T

”Life is not a problem. It is a miracle, a gift, a teaching, a celebration. Thanksgiving acknowledges the miracle of life –  It says that we live in a world of beautifully interacting thankfulness” – Daphne Rose Kingma

So what have we to be thankful for today?

If we take a moment to think back on countless thousands of years of human history, it is hard to find what might be accurately called “the good old days” for the average woman or man in the street.   Life might have been bearable for the few people at the top. But even kings, queens, emperors and persons whose every wish was obeyed would stand in awe at the opportunities with which anyone reading this is blessed today.

Cynthia Ozick tells us ”We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”

So let’s take a little time out for reflection on all the good things with which we are surrounded and which, in the hurry of our busy lives, we may have failed to notice.

Think of people, talents, good fortune, reasonable health, sufficient belongings.  Just look around, pause, think.

So here we are, surrounded by so many reasons for contentment in a world which is still so unequally divided.  This thought will and should unsettle us.   Meditation is not a comfortable sit on a cushion for a lucky minority living in a world which, for them, is a world of plenty.  Meditation helps us to see things as they really are and sometimes what we see is a need for action to put things right.   In Buddhism, the term you find is “engaged Buddhism”.  Engaged Buddhism calls us to look at how we spend our lives and how our lives have an effect on others.  You don’t need to be a Buddhist in order to see this idea arising as the consequence of reflection.

Let’s think about the ways in which we might help to make this world a better place. How can we live so that our lives will have made some little difference? Can we live a life that might leave the world a little better than we found it?

This does not mean running for political office (perhaps it does for some!) but it does mean all of us looking at our daily choices. How can we share what we have in talents or in material goods with the less well off?   Can we offer people an opportunity to get on their feet?  Can we think about what we buy, how far has it travelled and what about the working condition of those who toil, in sometimes awful circumstances, so that we can have what we want when we go out to buy?

The call is not that you or I should change the world but that you and I can each change our own world.

We each just have to make a difference to the life of even one person.

It is like that vary familiar story about the boy on the shore rescuing a starfish. There are multiple versions of this story floating around but the original idea comes from “The Star Thrower” published in 1969 by Loren Eiseley.

This is one of the variations:

Early one morning, a man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and he found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that the boy was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  As the boy came closer the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves.” The young man continued  “When the sun gets high, they will die unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said to the old man “It made a difference to that one!”

So we should never doubt our ability to make a difference.

And never forget that our good fortune and the gratitude that follows from it urges us to make that difference.

Never doubt  that every ordinary person, people just like you and me, can make that difference.

A closing thought, like our opening reflection, is also from Daphne Rose Kingma.

“Saying “you’re welcome” affirms that we live in a world awash with treasures, with miracles and blessings, that we are blessed with an endless array of people, moments, experiences, surprises, magic, curiosities, and beautiful coincidences to which our only delighted, ecstatic, and unchanging response should be thanksgiving.”

May each of our lives be filled with endless reasons for gratitude and may gratitude inspire us to make a difference to the people around us.

Tony – Dublin 8th September 2016

Share Button

Please give up this seat if an elderly or disabled person needs it

It causes me some sadness to see that there appears to be in our time a real need for the placing of signs like this in our buses and public transport systems. It is seen side by side with notices to the effect that “seats are not for feet” this latter injunction accompanied by an audible reminder to the same effect frequently repeated across the public address system of our trains. And we have warnings not to drop our litter, or dump our waste, as well as reminders clean up after our dogs (since obviously our canine friends cannot look after this piece of public responsibility themselves).

What a pity that people have to be reminded of behaviour which should be a matter of simple courtesy, decency, responsibility, thoughtfulness and common sense. Holding a door, getting up to let someone else sit down, not expecting other to sit where you have placed your feet, not expecting others to lift up the litter that you have dropped, or expecting someone else to clean the unpleasant mess that your dog has excreted on the public footpath, these are all common sense behaviours that should be second nature to any thinking person.

I am reminded of all this today when listening to an audio book The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions, a book in The Great Courses series, and captivatingly narrated by Professor Jay L. Garfield.

The book is a captivating tour through the great philosophical and religious traditions of the world.

Today the part I listened to referred to Taoism, also known as Daoism, a religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin arising some four centuries before the birth of Jesus. The Tao Te Ching text in that tradition offers some thoughts which we in the 21st century might beneficially take to heart:

“When the way is lost, virtue appears; when virtue is lost, kindness appears; when kindness is lost, justice appears, when justice is lost, ritual appears. Ritual marks the waning of belief and the onset of confusion.”

Put simply it talks in the first instance about simply living a good life as understood by the individual.

When that decent living commitment is lost a set of prescribed virtues are developed and urged for practice.

When those virtues fail to be applied people are urged to at least fall back on the idea of showing simple kindness to others, not stealing, not doing to others what you would not wish done to yourself.

Only when basic kindness and consideration fails to work then justice is applied – the law is set out and is to be obeyed and enforced.

As respect for law is lost society falls into confusion.

Today we are inclined to look upon law and rules and enforcement as the cement which binds society together.  We build our society on these foundations.

But in the Taoist view the creation and enforcement of law is the final step in trying to hold things together when kindness, virtue and common goodness have failed.

Our way of encouraging good behaviour is directly and vertically the opposite of what would be the best way for humanity to work in harmony.

So, for example, anti social behaviour should simply be a no no for thinking people. In the Taoist ideal rules relating to this should be unnecessary. Laws and enforcement would be a very last resort and not the cement that basically binds.

Could we begin to teach our children basic respect for the rights of others and hope for the day when it would not be necessary for them to see (and pay attention to) a sign on a bus before standing up let a less able person sit down? It can be more like that if we teach a basic civil responsibility, and maybe a little bit of Taoism.

Tony – Dublin 15 August 2016

Share Button