Sitting one night in a house with walls made from assorted pieces of wood and a roof of corrugated iron, I wondered at the teenage girls clustered around a black and white television. The programme was from Manila or somewhere and seemed to be about people living show business lifestyles; having not a word of Tagalog, I couldn’t be sure.
It seemed bizarre; there they were, sitting in a shanty, watching pictures of people who lived unimaginably extravagant lifestyles; why weren’t they organizing to change things? Why weren’t they protesting?
Perhaps one can only take so much reality; perhaps television took the place of religion as the opiate of the people; perhaps the Internet has now taken the place of television as the place of escape.
Dodging last night’s BBC television news, with its horrific pictures from Gaza and its tidings of economic gloom, a scan through Facebook brought a comment from a friend that he was still disturbed at the thought of the man who had died beside him on the train on Monday.
The trite response would have been to have reminded him that our very evangelical school principal had constantly warned people of the dangers of such moments. “Are you ready to face the end?” she would challenge teenage boys, who had neither interest or understanding of the things she spoke.
Trusting in grace, rather than my own efforts, for hope of heaven, I wondered not about the world to come, but about the one left behind. If there was a sudden end, what would people remember?
Would it be the snotty email I sent? Or getting their face chewed off by me for asking a question? Or being steamrollered at a meeting because I wanted to get through the agenda?
It was a sobering thought. If one’s life ended in the next five minutes; what damage would have been left unrepaired? What bitter memories would remain in people’s minds long after the grass had grown over the grave?
It was enough reality, though.
I switched on RTE Gold and listened to The Chi-Lites singing a smooth soul number from the mid-1970s and left a daft message on a childhood friend’s Facebook page.
What would one aspire to at the end? What would be a perfect frame of mind with which to depart?
Perhaps being able to sing with integrity the opening verse of the traditional Irish song The Parting Glass:
Of all the money e’er I had, I spent it in good company;
And all the harm I’ve ever done, alas was done to none but me;
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall,
So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.
Wouldn’t that be a grand ‘goodbye’? To be able say, with honesty, that one hadn’t done much harm in the world?
Perhaps the young Filipinas with their escapist television programme had a wisdom beyond their years; perhaps they knew there was not much they could do to make the world better, but, for certain, they would not make it worse. Their glamorous programme, my Facebook page, each is a moment of escape from an inexorable reality