Becoming Who You Are

“All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm”

  • Martin Gore

Back in the olden days I was a huge fan of The Police, the first two albums I bought were Regatta de Blanc and Outlandous d’Amour and I pre-ordered all their subsequent releases in Devine’s Record shop on Dublin St., without a deposit, as Mr.Devine, Cyril, would always ask me “Are you a son of your father’s ?” And I would answer ‘Yes’ nervously, and he would then say that there was no need for a deposit.

I walked back towards The Diamond, happy that I had an unexpected pound in my pocket and could buy coffee AND apple tart and cream in Molly Monaghan’s Coffee Shop, but also confused , as I knew that Cyril did insist on deposits from my friends.

Was Dad a Free Mason ?

A Knight of St.Columbanus ?

A secretive Monaghan Mafia Don, to whom Cyril was indebted ?


It turned out that Mum played golf with Cyril’s wife Ann.

The last Police album was called Synchronicity and those being pre-web/internet days, I had to go to the library to look up what ‘synchronicity’ meant, knowing that my friend Milo, a Simon & Garfunkel fan , would be waiting to slag off another pretentious Police album title, and would double down if I didn’t know what it meant.

The huge hardback Oxford Dictionary , heavily stamped ‘REFERENCE ONLY’ , meaning you could look at it , but couldn’t borrow it, said :

Synchronicity – noun

The fact of two or more things happening at the same time  

This was decidedly mundane , and a bit disappointing, so I double checked with the equally large, but less loved Cambridge Dictionary, that wasn’t stamped ‘REFERENCE ONLY’ , and looked like they didn’t really care if you ever returned it. It said :

Synchronicity – noun

The happening by chance of two or more related or similar events at the same time.

That was more like it ! That I could defend. And I did, successfully.

I hadn’t thought about that album, or synchronicity itself in forever…until Wednesday.

My friend Miriam Spollen invited me to a showcase event for her wonderful Connection Arts Centre in Dublin. It’s a not for profit social enterprise that empowers people with disabilities to express themselves, gain confidence and recognition through art. The showcase on Wednesday was part of Dublin City’s Inclusion and Integration Week, and there was to be an address by the Minister for Children, Equality, and Disability.

I was promised cakes, so I said I’d go.

I said I’d go on a whim, and didn’t really know why, other than showing support to Miriam, and expected the usual well meaning presentation, a few words from the Minister, a few words from Miriam thanking the Minister, lots of photos, the promised cakes, and out in the car park after an hour.

It was very different, both intentionally and unintentionally.

It took place in Christ Church, Rathgar, and it felt eerily familiar as I walked up to it. It took me a minute to realise that it had been on the route of the marathon a week or so ago. The church hall is the base for Connection Arts, I picked up my name badge on the way in, got a coffee, and a delicious little custard cake. Off to a good start. I wandered through the crowd looking at some paintings, catching Miriam’s eye as she chatted with numerous groups.

After a few minutes we were encouraged to take our seats, and there was a loud ‘POP’ and the lights went out. The hall was as old as the church and had large high cast iron latticed windows on two sides, so I thought that they’d switched off the lights, but as Miriam took to the stage to start proceedings I started to wonder why she wasn’t using the microphone, when she said that the power had gone out.

She apologised that nothing was going to plan, and welcomed everyone, explaining what they did and apologized again.

She then introduced on stage an artist , Mark Tiernan, his support worker, Phil Hall, and Sophie, a transition year student from Loretto High School who had been Mark’s classmate and buddy on a recent programme. The girls from Loretto had come along to the centre a couple of mornings a week and joined with Mark and the other artists in free form theatre, lessons in IT, money management, and art. They each took turns to talk, and all stressed how much they’d learnt about themselves and each other. Phil said that he’d seen a real change in Mark’s confidence, Sophie encouraged everyone to get involved, and to rousing applause Mark simply said that the whole thing had been awesome.

The odd thing was that because the microphones and speakers were not working, there wasn’t a sound from the audience. We were all in rapt attention.

Miriam got back up on the stage to explain that they’d hoped to have a speaker from an IT company that had developed a new accessible website for them, but that he’d got Covid over the previous weekend, and that his substitute speaker was stuck in traffic, but that as there was no power , she couldn’t show us the website anyway…or the 20 slide presentation and video she’d planned to show us of their recent programme where they matched established artists with budding artists with disabilities , resulting in an exhibition of their works in the Royal College of Surgeons.

Instead she introduced an artist from Cork, Jennifer Humphries , and her mentor Christine Foley. Christine talked about her own doubts in taking on the project , but how fulfilling she had found it, and then Jennifer explained what it had meant to her, what Christine’s friendship and mentorship had encouraged her to do and said that it had helped them in “….becoming who you are.”

I loved it. That expression hit me in the heart…in a good way.

Again the lack of technology had meant that people leant in to their talk…quite literally.

Miriam then introduced the Minister, Anne Rabbit.

This was the part I was dreading most. I do wholeheartedly believe that every person enters politics for the betterment of others, and I could not do what they do, but I feel that after a while a large number are going through the motions.

From the moment that the Minister started speaking you could tell that she was genuinely interested and was speaking from the heart…and also that her prepared speech wouldn’t come up on the laptop. She started by paying tribute to Miriam and everyone in the Connection Arts Centre, the artists, the transition year students, and the mentors. She made the saliant point that speaking at this event , for people used to having microphones, podiums to stand behind, large screens, and pre-prepared presentations and speeches, maybe gave a tiny insight into how some people with a disability have to go about their day to day life without ‘props’ that we don’t appreciate because we take them for granted.

They then had an awards ceremony , presenting the Loreto girls and their artist classmates with certificates for competing the course.

And that was that.

A wonderfully uplifting and life enhancing morning. There was such joy and pride in that hall. And the cakes were lovely…I had two more custard pastries while waiting to say goodbye and well done to Miriam. I went to look at a painting that had been on display that caught my eye from where I’d been sitting for the ceremony, and discovered that it was by a Galway artist, Jessica Londi Bond.

I went up to Jennifer, the artist from Cork , and shook her hand and told her hat I thought her words had been powerful and that I would follow her on Instagram, which I have, @artsywoman . I was hoping to buy one of her works, but both of the ones on display were already sold.

It seemed that every single person in the hall wanted to say Thanks to Miriam…so I ate the last custard pasty while I waited.

I went to use the loo, and she came running out after me thinking I was leaving, and I gave her a big hug and said that it had been a wonderful event. She was still a bit frazzled, albeit relieved that it was over. “You’ve no idea how many things have gone wrong over the past two days, and then the power goes !”

“I think it actually worked well. It was different. Wonderfully so. Everyone had to pay close attention to hear what was being said, and probably took it all in better. It shouldn’t have worked at all, but I thought it was fantastic.”

Someone from the hall was calling her back to speak to someone else, so I gave her another hug and said “It was brilliant, you were brilliant.”

Walking back to my car I could just hear Jennifer saying “…becoming who you are.” over and over. I drove off and then realised that I was approaching Bushy Park. I pulled in and went for a walk.

Thirty nine years ago I walked around this park at least once a week. I was a Novitiate in the Holy Ghost Fathers and our house was nearby in Cypress Downs. I felt lonely sometimes and missed my Soulmate. Celibacy and True Love are not great partners. I was struggling. I would walk around the park and look at boys and girls holding hands, families out for a walk, and missed Eileen even more.

The unfortunate priest who was in charge of us, Fr.Hugh Boyle, gave me a book to read, hoping it would help , The Keys Of The Kingdom. It didn’t.

I have a distinct recollection of sitting on a park bench in Bushy Park, reading that terribly written book, and looking up and seeing an elderly couple, shuffling along, holding on to each other, smiling, and thinking “That’s what I want.”

I decided to leave the Holy Ghosts that day.

Becoming who you are.

I became a husband, a Dad to three Wunder Monkees, and yet I still feel that I’m still becoming who I really am. My Soulmate and I have been though a bit these last two years, but feel all the better , more appreciative, and generally grateful for it.

Synchronicity – by chance I went to a showcase, passed by a place of significance to a yesterday me, and stopped because an artist from Cork had said those words “ becoming who you are.”

I found the same bench I used to sit on and took a moment and felt thankful, and thought that the 39 year ago me would be thrilled skinny if he thought he’d end up  being 2023 me.

I looked up and saw an elderly couple walking towards me, they reminded me of the couple I’d met all those years ago. I went up to them.

“Hello, this is going to send really silly, but almost 40 years ago I was in the Holy Ghosts, and I saw a couple here, on this path like you guys, and I decided to leave, and I married my Soulmate. It was an incredible moment for me. Would you mind if I took a photo of the two of you ?”

He had stared blankly at me the whole time. She had smiled. When I finished speaking , she squeezed his arm gently and he looked at her, turned to me and said “Fuck off !”.



P.S. Our marathon fundraiser is finished and we raised €7032 for Monaghan’s fantastic Crocus Cancer Support. Thank you all !

P.P.S The lyrics at the top are from Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’

P.P.P.S This is a story I’ve posted before about a visiting priest who reads out the intention for someone who has recently passed away during mass and realises that it was his first love….

I knew her as…….

The vigil mass was almost over and Fr. Stephen, home for the first time in 15 years from Brazil, stared at the folded note beside the microphone. Before the final blessing there were just the parish announcements and any breaking news that hadn’t made it in time for the printed bulletin to be read. He’d only had a few minutes before the mass started and the short duration of the mass to steel himself for the one line in the announcements that had shaken him to his core when he’d been handed it that evening by Pat, the sacristan.

He took a deep breath.

“Next Sunday’s eleven o’clock mass will be a special one for this year’s First Holy Communion class. It will be just two weeks since they made it.”

Many smiling faces greeted him as he looked up.

Deep breath.

“Your prayers are asked for Mrs. McGuinness of Glaslough Street who passed away this morning after a long illness. Removal on Monday evening at seven pm followed by the funeral at eleven a.m on Tuesday.”

He took another deep breath. Hold fast.

“Your prayers are also asked for Katherine Lyle, formerly of Park Street, who passed away in Dublin today. Many of you would have known……….” he stared at the note. He could see her face, her smile. He smiled. The congregation shuffled it’s feet, someone coughed. He began again.

“Your prayers are asked for Katherine Lyle, formerly of Park Street, who passed away in Dublin today. I would have known her as Katy Cunningham.”

He started to say the final blessing, realised that there was a tremor in his voice, coughed loudly and started again, determined.

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost…..sorry, old habits…….Holy Spirt, Amen. You are free to go, to love and serve the Lord.”

The congregation got to their feet as the choir, in wonderfully Irish Catholic fashion, gave a half-hearted and slightly embarrassed rendition of Ave Maria. He waited in front of the altar flanked by the two servers with his back to the congregation until they’d finished the first verse, genuflected and made his way to the sacristy.

Pat, the sacristan, was waiting and looking anxious for his old friend.

“Jesus Stephen, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise. My God, I feel so stupid.” He looked for some sign from his friend.

“It’s OK Pat, I didn’t realise myself until…….” he broke down. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t carry on as if everything was normal. A wave of grief overcame him now and he collapsed into Pat’s arms and wept. Pat back heeled the door of the sacristy firmly shut. There would be a small queue of parishioners forming to make arrangements for future month’s minds, anniversaries or simply to ask for a special intention. It couldn’t be avoided. He knew his old friend needed a moment.

It only took ten minutes to hear everyone’s requests and then it was just the two of them. Pat was busy tidying things away and getting everything ready for the morning mass.

“I’m just going to take a minute to myself” Stephen called over his shoulder as he went back into the empty church. He sat in the middle and started to pray for Katy. As he prayed, memories flooded back. They were seventeen and walking through Rossmore Park , hand in hand, the air bristling with energy, electricity, expectation and excitement.  She had always known, even before they had started going out together that he had planned to join the priesthood, but still, he remembered with sadness another day, the day he told her that he was still committed to it. Neither of them had realised just how deeply in love they were, they readily accepted the opinions of others that it was infatuation, puppy love and that it would pass. It was the only thing that got them through that first year apart, but they were wrong, it never passed, certainly not for him. He hoped it had for her.

In his first year in the Holy Ghost Fathers they had written letters to each other, as friends, but there was more said in what was not written in each one. He looked forward to them but always felt sad when he’d finished reading them. His mother’s letters sometimes filled in some of the blanks. Katy had dropped out of school and started working. Mum said that she had got the impression that it made Katy sad if she stopped to talk to her, that maybe it reminded her of him somehow.

By the second year the letters became monthly and in his third year he went on the missions for eighteen months and the letters stopped. When he came home from his first stint on the missions as a student priest he asked his Mum if there was any news of Katy. She told him that she was in London and apparently doing well. Through his friend Pat he managed to find out that she worked as a hairdresser in Knightsbridge. He was only home for three weeks but he managed to make an excuse to visit a friend in the Holy Ghost Fathers in Bromley and he went to Knightsbridge. He stood across the street looking at the shop, she walked up to the reception at the front and he almost burst with joy. All of the feeling came rushing back. It was nearly closing time and he rushed down the street to a florists he’d passed on his way there and bought a single red rose.  He rushed back up the street and saw her leaving the shop, his heart was pounding in his chest, he was about to call out when……….when he saw that another was waiting to meet her. They jumped into each other’s’ arms and kissed. He turned away and walked back down the street, he was devastated and empty.

He sat in a nearby church that day too and resolved to let her be happy, he had no right to interfere, to risk her happiness on a whim of his. He would not ask after her again. But he would say a prayer for her and her partner every day.

“Stephen! Stephen!” Pat roused him from his thoughts and prayers. “What is it Pat?” he answered grumpily.

“There’s someone on the phone for you” he answered. “Take a message, please Pat.”

“It’s John Lyle, Katy’s husband, he rang asking if we would know how to get in touch with you, he couldn’t believe it when I said that you were here.”

Stephen took the call. “Mr. Lyle I am truly sorry for your loss, Katy was a dear, dear friend of mine when we were young.”

“I know Father, Katy spoke of you often, she never forgot you. I can’t believe I’ve reached you on the first call, I was dreading having to track you down somewhere in South America. Please call me John.”

“And you, please call me Stephen. How can I help you, John?”

“I know it’s a huge imposition but Katy was ill for a while and we all got to make peace with her passing before she died. She wanted her funeral to be a celebration and her last wish was that you would conduct the funeral”.

Stephen was taken aback, a tear rolled down his cheek as he said “I’d be honoured John, I’ll get directions and I’ll be there tonight.

Pat drove him to Dublin immediately. He walked up the driveway, John Lyle opened the door and gave him a warm hug then he stood to one side as a fine young man approached from the kitchen.

“Father, this is my eldest son. Katy and I called him Stephen.”

Author: paul

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