Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Irish Eyes

In Ireland, people ask us where we’re going if they see us looking at a map. Sometimes, they tell us to put the map away, and then they just walk us to where we want to go. Community meetings happen in the schools or in the pubs, and everyone we walk past smiles. Lovely day, they say, even on the shittiest days. All the drivers wave when they pass by.

At the bar the other night, I sat and read the news: fifty dead and fifty more hurt, a massacre of unutterable horror. One man hid in a bathroom stall while, in the next one, everyone inside was gunned down. One woman remembers the last drink she ordered before she made it out the exit, just in time. Cell phone videos play a pumping beat, a shrieking crowd – drunk, euphoric – and the guns sound like part of the song. I sat at the Irish bar and felt sick, and the bartender, his eyes so kind, asked what was making me sad. I told him, and he didn't say he was sorry, or how terrible, or how sick. He looked down at his hands – big workman’s hands – because somehow the Irish know when words just won't work.

In Ireland, no one mentions Donald Trump unless we bring him up first. Many Irish have relatives in America now. People ask me when my wedding is, ask about my dress – even the men ask about my dress. Every morning when we leave for the next town, they wish me a lucky marriage. They make little jokes about grandkids, and they wave as we walk away.

It’s a kind place, Ireland, a gentle and beautiful place. At least, that is what we see: rolling hills, sweeping views, crashing coasts buffered by munching sheep. We see sweet, smiling faces and polite, well-behaved children. We see friendly cows, friendly dogs, shy but friendly cats. People offer us rides and seem embarrassed when we push money into their hands. They push it back towards us, shaking their heads.

Every night as I wait for sleep to come, I marvel at this beauty: unsullied and raw and real. Still, every place knows death, knows blood, and these shattering coasts are no exception. Everywhere there’s ugliness; every day you can find it, if you look. I think back to a dark-eyed, brooding student who, in the middle of class, said something to the woman next to him that made her scream and leave the room. Neither of them ever came back. There’s the woman I met in Santa Fe who walked there from Guatemala, and on the way, her baby died. She had to leave him behind. Him, she said, a fist against her mouth. There’s the boy I knew my whole life who, when I brought my college friends to my hometown, raped one of them beneath the toboggan chute before it was even dark out. All tragedies, all small compared to fifty people dead. The horror of that guy in the bathroom stall still pervades my dreams, and I think that life is too fucked up to fathom.

Who have you lost? a friend recently asked, and I thought of a life cut short beneath thin ice, another halved by pills and booze, a third crushed beneath the weight of sorrow, small at first but enormous by the time a decade passed. I thought of my father’s face in his hands the day his mother died. Without death, I know, we couldn’t live. Without blood, there would never be beauty.

Still, to make sense is impossible.

So the best we can do is to mourn and then learn. We must grieve, weep, and remember. We must rally, lobby, speak out, and educate. We must change our laws. We must change our minds, and once that's done, we must be brave and fight to change other minds, too.

Meanwhile, may we the living seek out beauty today, and say a prayer: For the stranger who shows you the way. For the lover who teaches you trust. For the wedding that’s just around the bend, and for all the years that stretch beyond it  – happy years, you hope, but of course you never know. For the child who runs into the rain just as it’s starting to fall: she’s dancing now, and her grandfather runs out to join her. For the bird that smacked the window and fell, and for my partner, who went out and stroked it and stroked it until finally it beat its wings and flew away. For all the little gifts that make up a day, and for the lessons we might take from the horror. For the laws that might change when we finally decide that we won't lose our freedom if we put down our guns.

To all those beautiful lives lost on a terrible Florida Sunday: May your deaths not be a waste. May we learn from this terrible loss. May beauty grow up from your ashes.

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