Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday and Heavy Breathers.......

My she shed is still a WIP so I removed myself to the library in a nearby village today. It was a gorgeous morning here in North Co. Dublin; very cold, but the quickly thawing ground frost left behind that nice crisp air and a blindingly low winter sun hung in a hard blue sky.

I had a good bit of reading to do, so found myself a quiet corner and began. There were a couple of students in the study area, and some very young children on the lower ground floor chatting and laughing. I have, of necessity, always been able to shut out the noise of the very young. A skill learned as the oldest of seven kids growing up in your average suburban semi-d.

After an hour or so I was deeply engrossed in my book but became aware of somebody settling into the desk behind me. That was fine, concentration briefly disrupted I checked emails and had a quick look on social media. Then, when I deemed my fellow reader should be organised I tried to get back to my book.


The noises emanating from the person were ridiculously irritating. Snuffling, throat clearing, sighing, tutting and (worst of all) very heavy breathing. I had to resist the urge to turn sharply and say ‘STOP BREATHING!’

 I gave up my hope of concentrating after ten minutes, when it became apparent that my fellow library user was simply a noisy person, completely unaware of same. Some people need to hear themselves breathing to make sure they’re still, well, breathing.

As I gathered together (quietly) my belongings I cast a glance at my intruder. Elderly, male, bald and a little overweight; he had the angriest looking cross marked in black ash on his forehead. It‘s Ash Wednesday and, despite making pancakes yesterday, it hadn’t registered with me. As I passed I stole a glance at the documents this man was working on. They appeared to be applications for attendance at a local Catholic primary school. I wondered about them. There has been a lot of chat in Ireland recently about parents trying to get their children into the local school and failing to find a place because preference is going to those baptised in the Catholic faith. A lot of parents are choosing not to baptise their children now, and finding it difficult later, as the Church is still the main patron of most schools in Ireland.

I know this particular Catholic school. It has a great reputation, and there are alternative schools in the area. But I’m a great believer in kids going to the local school, the one their pals from crèche or their estate go to. I have no idea if my heavy breather was judging parents as he read their forms – but the memory of his blackened brow staring sternly at these forms is a little unsettling – and of course the product of an over active imagination. But still…..

Anyway, I came out onto the Main St as the local church was emptying itself of its devotees. If an alien had landed this morning I think it might have been bewildered as to why most of the humans it encountered appeared elderly and marked with an angry thumb. Despite the warming sun I shivered. I know ashes on ones forehead are supposed to be symbolise humility – but it just doesn’t feel like that.

It feels like – ‘we are different’. 

And that’s my main problem with all organised religions, that - ‘we are different’ Not we are better (although many espouse that) but look at us, we are different – and we want to be the same in our difference. Am I making sense? Probably not. But I’ll never, ever understand slavishly following any particular group of teachings – when some of them are blatantly unfair and even at times downright cruel.

'Nuff said. Roll on me she shed! 

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