In our part of Somerset, school finished at sixteen years old, if you wanted to study further, you went to a further education college. It was an altogether different place from secondary school, uniform was gone, petty rules were gone, and the day ran from 9.00 am until 5.30 pm. The late end to the day was often enforced by tutorial groups being timetabled for the final hour, from 4.30 onwards. It was a late class that meant two eighteen year olds were sat in the library doing nothing in particular one winter’s afternoon when a friend came running in, “come out and sea the sunset.” The librarian hardly seemed to notice as three noisy males disturbed the tranquility of her domain as they headed out through the doors. It was a perfect winter evening, cloudless and with a sky coloured in shades of pink and orange by the setting sun. We stood in silence pondering the beauty of ordinariness, lacking words to express whatever feelings were evoked by the sunset.
Driving the road from Mountmellick to Tullamore, Irish Midlands stretched towards the yellow sky in the west. The late October sunset, now an hour earlier because of daylight saving time, was of a quality that would have drawn an eighteen year old from a college library. To have pulled down a side road in order to escape the speeding main road traffic and to stop and look at the sunset would have been thought eccentric behaviour for a fifty-five year old cleric, it is not the sort of thing done by ordinary people. But, why not?
Ministry on the east coast of Co. Down in the 1990s brought encounters with a lasting impact. In the village, there was a middle aged couple whose presence always lightened the day, the woman was always positive, always optimistic, her husband was quiet, reflective, happier to listen than to speak. He had suffered brain injury that had made him introspective, but had left him with a deep appreciation for the world around. He would sit on the harbour wall, watching the rising tide. He could describe the beauty of a single wave, its shape and colour and movement. One might have wondered why someone who had suffered a life-threatening illness was the only one among us could look at the everyday and the commonplace and discern within them a profound beauty. Perhaps he would have understood those eighteen year old students, been able to have given them words. Perhaps he would have said one should stop on the road from Mountmellick to Tullamore.