‘I am long enough around to know there are some tragedies too deep for mere words’
It works up to a point. The point is that it will not help us cope with the randomness of life — as the courageous people of Creeslough discovered.
How do you stand up straight when your world turns upside down?
Last weekend I was asked by every branch of the media over and over again to find words of comfort, not only for the grieving people of Donegal but for the numbed people of Ireland.
I am long enough around to know there are some tragedies too deep for mere words. I prayed a lot that some understanding would come; then I prayed to be humble enough to suffer silently with the people of Creeslough and share their pain.
It is the awful randomness of life and death which confuses me the most. Ten wonderful, ordinary people going about their daily life got caught in a terrible blast. Their lives ended in an instant. Their families and friends can never be the same again. How can they possibly make sense of such a random tragedy?
A schoolgirl going for ice cream after school; a father and child buying a birthday cake for mum; a man getting cash for a takeaway; a shop assistant earning a few euro. It is not possible to explain away such a loss of life. We should be able to plan a wet Friday evening, shouldn’t we? No wonder the entire community is devastated.
The people of Creeslough, with Fr John Joe, got it right when they turned to silent prayer — after they had relentlessly and courageously toiled with mighty diggers and human hands to save as many of their neighbours as they could.
Human chains come naturally to living communities. One person said on the radio that when he arrived on the scene, he looked around the car park and knew by the cars who he had to look for. It comes naturally to us country people.
Faith gives us the patience and assurance that a higher power walks with us. The God I believe in doesn’t wish such things to happen and will not abandon us to the darkness. The symbolism of ten candles burning on the altar in Creeslough tells us that there is light to dispel the blackness of despair.
In troubled times, just being together brings strength and hope.
Over many years I have tried to help heartbroken people struggling to survive major tragedies. My home town of Enniskillen and our neighbours in Omagh come instantly to mind.
Our instinct is to ask why such suffering happens.
Life has taught me that there are some tragedies we cannot instantly make sense of. It is wiser to acknowledge our helplessness. We don’t need to have all the answers in times of grief. Walking with suffering people is much more powerful than false words of consolation.
I have to admit I found it impossible to sleep on that Friday night; I did what I thought best; I got up and sat praying for the rescue workers risking their lives in the dark of night as they heroically sifted through rubble, unaware of what they might find.
Then I thought of the families waiting for loved ones to come home, not knowing whether they were under the rubble or in some safe place. I prayed too for the families and friends of those who died in the blast.
The young people of Creeslough are constantly in my mind. Their lives will never be the same again. Such terrible trauma takes its toll. I know they will find courage and hope in this sad time when they see good people doing good deeds.
Autumn is everywhere this month. This is the season when nature slowly goes to sleep. Leaves turn brown and drop to the ground. Soon the trees will be skeletal and long nights will quieten our hearts.
Nature teaches that next spring the trees will be dressed and beautiful again. Nature gives us a reason to hope and lets us cope with dying.
We mourn with the people of Creeslough. Our prayer is that they will find consolation in their grief and that we will give thanks for what we have.
As we mourn, we experience the power of pause; the ability to stop and stand still; to reflect on what is important and to recognise what is not.
It is a time to be gentle with yourself and with others; to be yourself; to just be.
It is an opportunity to recognise the gift of enough; to be grateful for what we have without being greedy for what we don’t have.
Most of all we can recognise the sacrament of the present moment; the gift of community — the gift of me and the gift of we.
I’ve become more grateful this week. Gratitude is the awareness of my own vulnerability. It’s being humble enough to know I need help and to accept help when it comes.
As I shared with our people at Mass last week, if we don’t feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we will be happy with more?
On Monday I went over to Creeslough. I stood out of the way on the edge of the village and watched workers making safe the remains of the shop.
In the silence, tears slipped down my cheeks. I began to pray familiar prayers. Garda cars went to and fro. A faded rainbow sat high above the village for five minutes and then disappeared into a cloud.
The prayers dried up, telling me it was time to go home again. I drove slowly, afraid that I wasn’t fully in control of myself. A kind of inner peace settled on me and I asked God to share it with those who needed it most.
The prayer of John Henry Newman came to me: “May He support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last.”