Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On The Queen, Garret and Barack (and doing it for ourselves)

It has been a remarkable couple of weeks in Ireland, with first the UK head of state and then the American President visiting in close succession. We also lost Garret Fitzgerald.

For the queen, we pulled out all the stops - stops for traffic; stops for nefarious characters, who were duly searched; stops for our cynical hearts, which embraced the Queen of England's presence with startling warmth.
I am proud that our country has moved on to the extent where our neighbour's leader can come to our country and not be under constant criticism or threat for personal security. But we went a bit beyond this. For all the talk about equals, there was a wavering balance. Like having your girlfriend's ma'am turn up to meet you.
"Nothing serious!" she says, "just a little chat! I know you've been seeing each other for a while, and I just realised - we've never really had a" - here, the face scrunches up, lips pushed out, eyes peering over nose to you - "proper chat."
And duly, in our role as young lover, having shifted the face off England on and off over the years, as well as had a few rides here and there, we put on our best clothes and maybe some coffee and said "Yes! It would be great to talk!"
"Like equals" she says. And you know she means it, talking to a self sufficient young man; but you think to yourself Do I? You're nervous because you want to put forth your best face. After all, you've been in the house, and passed it a hundred times. You know about their strange ways, their traditions and etiquette, which are slightly different from yours. They remind you of the porcelain figurines on the modern wood mantlepiece, opposite which you both sit. You don't need to defer to her, but you want to. For your lover. And you know this woman has seen you round the neighbourhood, back when you did things you're a bit embarrassed by now, smoking fags with the big lads outside Tescos just a couple of years ago. But here you are now, settled.
You chat for a while; still nervous. She asks how you are, and seems genuinely interested. You tell her. You ask her about herself. It dawns on you: your both nervous. She knows how you hurt her child, and knows how her child hurt you. But you're putting that behind you - and you've been neighbours for as long as you remember; and while you've never spoken to this woman - your lover's mother - properly - you both know each other. It's a painful, but joyous moment, almost... intimate. So you move on and she says "Well, I hear you play the guitar!" Oh Christ. You know you'll have to play the guitar. While you're OK with it, you have much greater talents you could show. But this is what she knows about you, and this is what she asks for. So you play You Raise Me Up and secretly know you're going to be really embarrassed about this when your friends find out.
But it all passes on well enough. She smiles and you smile. You get so comfortable - it's like you're on the same wavelength - she's really talking your language. As she leaves you think "I'm going to do my best by her - her kid deserves the very best I can do" But then you have to ask yourself - why can't you just do it for yourself?

I must confess to witnessing some republicans (with a small r - into the "nation for the people", but not the murderous psychopathy) wavering in their own beliefs. I woke up in a cold sweat on Thursday morning - I had to get out of town before the Queen came in, and I was sure Mary McAleese was going to be crowned. Or attempt to adopt the Queen, for taxes and little-old-lady-with-the-belly-of-a-lion-leadership. But, more luck for me, this never came to pass.
I drove the startlingly well surfaced, clean roads from my home in Co Kildare out to Dublin. The traffic was still a bit heavy, but with well-tended shrubs and a beautiful morning, it didn't seem all that bad. We cleaned up pretty well here.  Sadly, not for ourselves. If only we kept the place clean, there wouldn't be that nervousness whenever someone comes to visit.

Then we heard the news.  Garret the Good had died. I know of at least half a dozen people who hoped in his last hours, he might have heard the Queen's speech at the State banquet in her honour. We reflected on the timing - so apt that he might go, just after it's confirmed that his work was done. A stickler for detail, it seemed he'd had his homework closely assessed, and outside a couple of stray grammatical errors, it was of a first class honours standard.  If the Queen was our lover's mother, Garret was surely our Grandad. Like a grandfather, everyone seemed to have a story about him; some event that demonstrated his warmth, intelligence or generosity.  Tiresome in our youth, but making more sense as we grew older; until ultimately, he calmly (having seen it all before) explained where he thought we were going wrong, as we laughed and continued doing it anyway. And when it all went wrong, rather than hold it up to us, he told us: Well, you'll have to make it right now. As we fumbled with that task, he calmly and meticulously tried to explain what it was we should be doing. Like all grandfathers, we listened but pretty much ignored his advice (some even mocked it) until he died. I have no idea if he was right or wrong - but I do know he was talking to us all the time until he did die. Then we exclaimed his broad genius.  In fairness, we always held him in our hearts; if not our minds. A true statesman and grandfather to the nation.

It was just as well our buddy was coming over. He'd cheer us up. He always did. A bit of craic, the President of the USA. This time in teh clothes of Barack Obama. Your big brother or sister's friend. No - your big brother or sister's cool - no coolest -  friend. The one that was always sound out. Dressed like they did in the movies and never apologised for it. Confidence, they had, and everyone wanted to be around them.  They asked you how you were doing, what you were up to (making you feel like everyone might want to be around you too). The one you once spent ages in the pub talking to. Then, when you were walking home, you realised (with embarrassment) that you never asked them how they were doing. But you were pretty sure they were doing OK. They were always (and still are) sexy, confident. Everyone in the room looks at them. They pay their own bar tab. Your older now, and you know they're only human; they have their problems, but you don't want to talk about that.  You want to impress them instead. They come over, full of  confidence and optimism. They tell you what you need to hear. Some hard truths, some softer, all a bit something you know in yourself, but somehow you still need to be told. Then you want to say something to them, but you're nervous you'll say something stupid (even though you know they're pretty generous of spirit, you don't want them thinking your stupid). Say something smart. Say something. SAY SOMETHING! You tell yourself over and over. And you tell them something you know they've heard before, because they said it before. But you say it anyway - repeat back to them something they've already said - to show how cool you are now. How you're getting it together. They make you smile, maybe laugh a bit. And like your big brother or sister's coolest friend - they have to hit the road too soon! They leave, but you feel confident. You think, "Yes, I can do it. I'm no dork".

And we have to hold onto all these things. It is sad that we can't generate this confidence within our own country.  Confidence in our status, the conviction of our values, the courage to go on. And we must go on. If we don't nurture this new-found self esteem, it will be gone again, and before we know it, this mad weekend will be over; it will be Monday again, and we'll be hitting Snooze because it's just a struggle to get out of bed and face that day ahead.

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