Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Bomb Through The Eyes Of A Child

I have had experience of two bombs in my life.  Both of the experiences have left a photographic if surreal imprint in my memory.  I have been listening today to interviews with those present or in the vicinity of the Boston Marathon Bombs and it has brought back those memories into the forefront of my mind, and the thoughts of what fear must have gone through the mind of my father that day.

It was 17th of May 1974.  My family had taken the trip to Dublin city centre to shop for errands.  In those days that's what shopping was.  It was an occasional occurrence, you had a list of essential items to purchase, often including material or yarn with which to make clothes for the children, and you bought them. Then you went home. The children didn't get treats in every shop...or in any shop for that matter, unless it had already been planned and budgeted for. Families in Ireland were short of money in the 1970s.

All of my family were there except for the eldest, my then 14 year old brother who had decided to stay at home to study for his state exams which were approaching a few weeks later. My father parked in the usual car park, a reasonably priced large park manned by a little pay-booth located to the back of Henry St, now the location of The Ilac Centre Shopping Centre.  I'll always remember the cobbled, roundy-stoned dusty surface of that car park, and I'm pretty sure my father does too...since he probably counted every stone in it a few hours later.

Our day seemed uneventful.  My mother needed some items in Arnotts, a slightly more up-market store which would be more fun from her point of view.  She discussed with Daddy whether she should go there first but they decided to get the more mundane items out of the way first, a decision which might possibly have saved all our lives. My mother was about the same age as I am now. My four sisters and I tramped around the necessary shops following my parents.  Men's trousers in Boyers.  Fabric for a dress for my sister in Hickeys.  We then went to the treasure trove for mothers of young families...Guineys on Talbot St., where you could buy children's vests and knickers, nylons,  tea-towels, bed-linen and all sorts of household essentials which were generally good quality at reasonable prices. As usual we spent quite some time there as my mother had quite a list.

Finally we went to Parnell St where there was a little shop which sold sheet music where my father bought some music books for piano and for teaching his pupils in the school where he was the principal.

 I remember this shop very well because my youngest sister, then 2, got momentarily lost and waited where she was as instructed until my parents retrieved her from outside the door of the shop, a little Georgian building with several steps up to the front door.  I may be wrong but I think the building may have been duck-egg blue with a navy door.

My parents remembered this shop very well too because they paused to buy an evening newspaper from the street-seller near the music shop.

With the essentials done my father said he'd take the little ones back to the car so that my mother and two older sisters could do the rest of the shopping without the fractious tiredness of the smaller children.  I was the eldest of those three.  This was a great occasion I remember because my father bought the three of us ice-cream cones, a very special treat.

After a while, when the two smallest sisters were either asleep or playing in the back of the car I was sitting beside my father in the passenger seat.  Time was ticking on and my mother and sisters should be back soon.

Then, out of the blue we heard a tremendous bang.  I thought it sounded like builders had dropped a huge steel girder from a height.  I clearly remember my father say in shock

"That's a bomb!"

Within seconds, from right behind the buildings near us I saw a huge mushroom cloud of smoke. I can't remember the immediate time frame but very soon after that people came running in panic to their cars and drove away from the vicinity as quickly as possible. I don't remember the second bang but my father does...the bomb which killed, among others, the newspaper seller.

My father told the three of us to lie face down in the back of the car and he covered us with his big anorak which he always kept in the car.  At this stage I could hear the three different sirens of police, fire engines and ambulances.

And we waited...

...and waited...

...the sound of cars speeding out of the car-park faded into the distance, leaving...us..the only car left in the car-park...

...silence and sirens...

....and we waited...

It's only now as an adult I can appreciate the terror my father must have felt waiting in that silent car-park for his young wife and two eldest daughters.  He couldn't risk leaving to look for them as he couldn't endanger his youngest children.  He must have been frozen in fear.

Finally, the three returned,  bags in hand, completely bewildered as to what was happening. They had been inside a large department store the whole time and had heard nothing until they made to return to the car.

So with his five little daughters lying face down in the car, my father left for home, not knowing whether he was driving to safety or into more bombs.  The quays, the route out of Dublin was choc-a-bloc with cars and ambulances trying to get through.  It must have been a singularly terrifying experience for my parents.

Meanwhile, my brother back home had the television on in the background while he was studying.  There was only one TV station at the time which was interrupted by the newsflash announcing multiple deaths and injuries at the very shop he knew my mother always went to, Guineys.

We had no telephone and neither did any of our neighbours so there was nothing he could do but stand on the step...for several hours...to find out whether his family were ever coming home.

This was my 1st Holy Communion taken one month later.

Other families weren't so lucky.

Here's a short little tribute to the 33 who died that day, including an entire young family, parents and their two baby girls.  A nine-month unborn baby was later acknowledged as the 34th victim.

I was in close proximity to another bomb as a young adult, along with my parents again and one of the sisters who had been 'missing' that day in 1974.  We were returning from visiting my Grandmother and aunt in Northern Ireland and I was availing of the opportunity for some driving experience.  We were passing the border military checkpoint with the patrol soldier examining my driving licence when a bomb went off a very short distance away, missing the target of the soldier.  We were in very real danger but I do not want to write about it.  I saw unbridled terror in that young boy's face that day, I would never like to see that again.

Thankfully nobody was hurt in that incident.

Please pray for victims of terrorism, no matter where they are in the world.  It is almost always innocent people and children who suffer from this terrible terrible blight on our planet.

May God forgive the people who carry out these acts.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gratitude And Lack Thereof

This is the Easter Season which I really love.  It's powerful, solemn and then the great joy of Easter Sunday.  What's not to love about it?  During these weeks I'd say people read the Gospels more than at any other time of the year in order to more fully experience Easter.  This year, though, I have been thinking more about another Gospel story...that of the ten lepers, of whom only one came back to say thanks.  And why am I thinking of this story at this time?  I'll tell you why.  But first to refresh your memory...have a little look at this...

...I'll wait for you...

...did you watch it? You did? Ok...

Well when we hear this story I think most of us like to align ourselves with the leper who came back to say thanks.  Like in any story with a moral, we'd always do whatever it was the good guy did.  Nobody likes to think of themselves as the shoddy, the lazy...or the ungrateful.

When I started this blog, I promised my Facebook friends that it would be a Louise-Free Zone as I figured (and still do) that there must be people who are sick to the teeth of hearing about her, however inspirational her story may be.  I also wanted to write about other things unconnected to her...things my life's experiences have taught me...things I think about and then the home 'stuff' which is good to help uplift the culturally demeaned opinion of work traditionally associated with mothers and women and the homes in which most of us abide. If I write even in a light-hearted way about my many mistakes and flaws, it's not for the dirty-linen-washing value, it's for the sake of the lesson to be learned from them.

So that said, I am now realising that to totally ban mention of probably the most life-changing and profound experience of my life from this blog would be something of a lack of authenticity.  I haven't managed it anyway as she has been mentioned on and off since the start anyway, one cannot just compartmentalise one's life....this event to this Pinboard...this event to that one...that's a fault in our Western Culture which has led to so many problems...dividing the human person into parts as though they had no connection to each other...the body...the psyche...the soul...so much damage.  So while this most definitely is not Louise's blog, a lot of the lessons I've learned are as a result of her...including this one which shocked even ME.

Read on....

As you may know, Louise was diagnosed with two major anomalies in the womb.  A heart one and a brain one.  You can just imagine the heartfelt prayers that followed.  Actually, you probably can't because I would never have imagined the depth of pleading with God I was capable of.  I never cared as much before you see.  I prayed and prayed and prayed...please save her...please cure her...

I still accepted whatever was going to present itself on our plate but it's permissible to pray for anything it's permissible to hope for.  And my goodness, did I HOPE.  I prayed our little girl wouldn't die, I prayed the children could cuddle her alive, I prayed she'd survive her surgeries, I prayed she wouldn't be disabled...or disfigured (because the thought of people turning their eyes away from her in the pram in embarrassment  broke my heart) I prayed she'd be pretty...not out of vanity but because whatever she could have on her side I wanted that for her.  I prayed she'd have a tough personality and not a placid temperament too accepting of her disadvantage...I prayed that people would love her.

And while I was praying all these things, my human faults were fighting with me.  Oh yes, we were great, and super and brave and so on and so on...but I was honestly ready to put my fist through the face of the next person who told us that God had specially chosen us...as though Christianity was a computer game.  We'd reached level 10 and had now unlocked our new weapon...the disabled child...

I still don't buy the theory that God made our child sick...He allows it and I can clearly see the great good resulting from her sufferings, but I don't think He was rewarding us by breaking our child.  I really don't think that's how God operates.

Anyway...back to my pleadings with God...there were times when I doubted my own faith in my prayers.  I 100% believed that God could cure Louise...but I didn't think He would.  Because quite quickly I could see the good she was doing and I thought that maybe she was doing more good sick than she would do were she well.  Then I thought that maybe me thinking that was actually preventing her cure because 'If you had faith as small as a mustard seed...' (Matt 17~20) (the colon/semi-colon button on my computer is broken!)
These are all the meandering thoughts I had during those heady months and thank God for John who patiently listened at length to my faulty thinking and reassured me time and again that God is not sitting there waiting for us to be perfect before He decides what best to do.

So when Louise was born we were prepared for a very sick, disabled child who would require intervention to live and that any milestones she were to reach would only be with huge input from therapists of every sort.

What we got was a child
...who required intervention to live..
...who is not disfigured (her face-mark is not always noticeable)
...who is pretty...
...who is definitely equipped with one tough personality...
and who is not disabled.

And this is where the 10 lepers comes in.

When I returned from the appointment with her neurologist who told us he felt that Louise would develop as a typical child with no neurological problems....

...I cannot believe what I heard coming out of my mouth...

"If He was going to cure her wouldn't you think He'd have cured the thing that could kill her!"

It was such an ungrateful thing to say.  I didn't mean it. I'm so shocked that I even thought it for a second. I am beyond grateful for how Louise is turning out.  I know and remember every day when she spills or floods or gets at make-up that we could just as easily have been still trying to get her to roll over on a mat on the floor, or to utter her first word.  I am forever grateful.  But at that moment I was like the spoilt brats who spit at their parents on Twitter every Christmas complaining that they got a white instead of a black iPhone.

So while we all like to think that we would be the thankful leper....maybe we wouldn't.

You know the posts about thinking of what we're thankful for and then thank God for that?
I'm suggesting we make a list of the things we're not thankful for...and pray about those things.  And thank Him for all He does that we don't even appreciate and He does it anyway.

Maybe one or two of those lepers came back later? Who knows?

And finally, the wisdom of my husband who reminded me that doctors can do a lot with Louise's heart.  There would have been nothing they could have done to make her not disabled.  God doesn't do for us what we can do for ourselves.