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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 13 November, 2019
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Opinion: The simple, powerful gesture you can make to balance the sadness of the past week

Anyone who keeps up with current affairs in Ireland would be hard-pressed to find a smile these days. I’ve decided what I need to do to change things – if even in a small way.

Donal O'Keeffe

IF I’M HONEST, I haven’t been in the best of form lately. This isn’t a time of year that suits me and, anyway, anyone who keeps up with current affairs in Ireland would be hard-pressed to find a smile these days. I’ve decided that I need to do something to cheer myself up and, hopefully, as Bruce Springsteen said, “What you do for other people comes out of what you’re trying to do for yourself”.

I’ll return to the Boss’s idea in a moment, but I mentioned current affairs. The last few days have been pretty depressing. We talk a lot in Ireland of respect for the dead, but it was hard last week not to suspect that, when we think we won’t be found out, some of us show little respect for either the living or the dead.

A complete disregard for human dignity

Reading about “Tandem Burials” – the practice of burying deceased newborn and stillborn babies in the coffins of strangers – I was struck that the story had very obvious resonances with the Tuam mother and baby home mass grave. Yet again we saw a complete disregard for the dignity of the dead. Yet again the bereaved have had an extra layer of needless cruelty added to their suffering. 
Respect is something which was also – at least sometimes – in short supply in Bungalow Three of the Aras Attracta residential home. Watching Prime Time last week and what seemed to be casual, everyday and often gleeful cruelty toward terribly vulnerable people, left me despairing. If you haven’t seen it, “sickening” is a word we overuse but this was literally, pit-of-your-stomach, sickening.

Prime Time’s presenter, the usually affable David McCullagh, appeared angered close to tears as he tore into the HSE’s Pat Healy. “I am ashamed,” said McCullagh, speaking for most of his audience, “I am ashamed to live in a country where that could be done to those people.”

It’s a horrible thought, but it seems that we do live in a country where, unless monitored very closely, some of us still appear to have little respect for the dignity of others. Maybe we do need CCTV everywhere. Not so the CIA can spy on us but so we can’t abuse people who can’t speak up for themselves. Then again, Ireland once believed itself monitored by an omniscient God and just look how we treated those most in need of kindness then.

Stephen Daedalus said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” but in Ireland nowadays that nightmare is also the present.

How many more Aras Attractas are there? How many kids go to bed hungry? How many times do we walk past the homeless? How long might Jonathan Corrie have waited to be found, had Sophie Pigot not noticed how uncomfortable his position looked? How many of us have called into a Direct Provision centre and asked the people living there if there’s anything we can do to help? 

I was reminded lately of the Jewish legend of the hidden Tzadikim. Neil Gaiman used that concept to great effect in his “Sandman” series: “They say that the world rests on the backs of 36 living saints – 36 unselfish men and women. Because of them the world continues to exist. They are the secret kings and queens of this world.”

We’re all of us heroes and villains

We all know of one or two genuinely selfless people who inspire us, (I’m thinking of people like Brother Kevin, Sister Stan and Father Peter McVerry now), but reality is usually more mundane: we’re all of us heroes and villains at different times throughout our lives, even at different times throughout our day. Most of the time we mean well and most of the time we get distracted by life.

I said I haven’t been in the best of humour lately. I’ve become a bit more unfriendly, a bit more angry and a bit more standoffish. Too much worrying about money, too much negativity and (I’ll admit it) too much feeding the trolls.

I’ve decided, for my own sake, that I need to start remembering to be a decent human being. I’ve decided, corny as it sounds, that one good deed a day would do me the world of good. (I know this will leave me open to accusations of sanctimony but you know what? (a) It’s Christmas; and (b) Have this one on me.)

I quoted Springsteen earlier. Here’s Bruce again: “Whatever divinity we can lay claim to is hidden in the core of our humanity and when we let our compassion go, we let go of what little claim we have to the divine.”

So here’s a suggestion for a good deed. I’m indebted to TheJournal.ie’s Deputy Editor Christine Bohan for tweeting about @DapperZo’s idea. It’s really simple and it’s the loveliest thing I’ve seen in a long while and, for the cost of about a euro, it’ll do a power of good.

Let’s all send a Christmas card to The Residents, Bungalow Three, Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo. Let’s show people like Mary Maloney, Ivy McGinty and Mary Garvan that we all wish them a very happy Christmas and let’s show the people whose job it is to look after those women that we care.

I’ll leave you with a quote from another rock icon, Bob Dylan. In his autobiography “Chronicles”, Bobby speaks about his grandmother. “She was filled with nobility and goodness, told me once that happiness isn’t on the road to anything. That happiness is the road. Had also instructed me to be kind because everyone you’ll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Happy Christmas.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

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