Just as when the planes brought down the towers, when the Challenger burst like a star in the sky and Virginia Tech taught us more than we ever wanted to know about what a broken soul with too much hate and too little hope could accomplish, we will all remember where we were and what we were doing when the reports about what had occurred into Newtown started to surface. I was sitting snug in my cottage here in Ireland, checking in with friends on Facebook and preparing to head out for the night.
I saw a short piece on msn.com first, followed quickly by a mention on the Irish television channel RTE 1: a gunman had opened fire in an elementary school, but it seemed that there was only one injury, to an adult. Thank God, I thought and went back to what I was doing. And then the posts started to hit Facebook and the news sites with vicious speed, reporting the unbelievable. And I started to weep, like I knew the rest of my country was, back home. All alone, far from friends and family, I wept and wept. I wept for the children and the teachers, for their loved ones and the town, too. And for America. For, as I wrote that night, my beautiful, fucked up country.
A friend I was IM-ing with asked what I thought the response would be over here, and I told her I believed the Irish would be deeply, genuinely empathetic. Empathetic as only can be the residents of a country that long ago become much more than glancing acquaintances with heartbreak that won’t ever heal. And I was right.
I still went out that night, intent on relieving the images in my mind with drink and music and, yes, empathy.
I got into the cab I’d called to pick me up, as usual driven by a man named Sean; always cordial to me, he was not, however, someone I knew well. He asked my plans for the night, and I replied, “The pubs.”
“Ach, sure, it’s a Friday night.”
I told him yes, it’s a Friday night, but something terrible had happened in my country, and I couldn’t bear to be alone. I told him what I’d learned, about the children. It was difficult to give voice to it, to that horror. Sean was kind, though not surprised. Not really. I believe The Irish have been through so much for so long that they are no longer surprised when tragedy occurs, not in Ireland, not abroad. They don’t expect it, necessarily, but they accept it with a kind of miraculous fortitude.
The last thing Sean said to me that night, before I opened the car door and walked into the night, was “I’ll say a prayer for the little ones.”
I was ok until then.
I stopped by Maura’s pub first. She was in her usual spot, on the couch across from the front door, and, as always, she warmly greeted me, asking, “And how are you tonight, Jill?”
“Hard night, Maura. Bad news from America.”
And the empathy that shone from her eyes filled mine with tears again, just as Sean’s parting words had – and just as the music I heard soon after, as I entered the pub Dick Mack’s, did: the slow, sweet strains, performed gently on a violin, squeezebox and acoustic guitar, sung quietly with a kind of mournful hope, of “Forever Young.”
It hurt, hearing that, but…it helped, too.
It’s a disquieting thing, being so far from home when something so horrific happens. It’s oddly lonely. And yet, I feel more connected to America than at any time since arriving on this island. I wonder if, in some way that I can’t explain or describe, it’s affected me more – or maybe differently – than it might have had I been home when it happened. I don’t have kids. I don’t know anyone who lives anywhere close to Newtown. I’m in no way directly connected to this…event. (Because to call it anything else, even a tragedy, doesn’t seem to begin to impart the magnitude of it, does it?) But like nothing else, except September 11th, it hurts.
I don’t know. But I do know that if I can’t be home right now, to be within the borders of the country that I love and that frustrates me in equal measure, there is no where else where than Ireland I might find so much comfort.
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