Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

By Ned Egan

Dust. We are surrounded by it. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if God doesn’t get you, the Divil must,’ we used to sing at school playtime. There’s a great book called ‘A Handful of Dust.’ Then there is the dust of our ancestors, dead and gone. The dust of a thousand million meteorites and rocky inanimate asteroids, racing through time and eternal space until they crash at last into the forming ball of our Earth, helping to make it, to grow it – maybe to destroy it.

Then there’s the dust of my tiny son Ned, his unseeing baby eyes staring forever at the blue sea by which he was buried, the Mediterranean. A victim, an innocent infant who was only granted a few short days on this lovely planet. On a sun-bleached island, little Ned never even saw the blue blue sky during his too-short days. Sixty years ago. He is now just a few indelible grammes of diamond dust. I was deathly afraid; like TS Elliot wrote “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” But I couldn’t show fear or hurt. In those tough times. But my heart was broken – still is. He took a big part of me with him. The military doctors were kind, but they told me Ned would never see, nor would he hear, or walk. There was only a few bits of him there. Nobody knew at the time that the little fellow was part of the wreckage and devastation inflicted by Thalidomide. One top doctor – a good but rather insensitive character – said to me: “Egan, he won’t have the life of a crab”: It hurt, but it was true. I talk about Ned as if I knew him – but they wouldn’t even let me see him. “For your own good, Egan – you’d never be any use again.” Military days then – and when the head medic quietly suggested “we might let him go?” – I knew what he meant. Was I right to nod wordlessly? The way the doc put it – a religious man himself – “We all pass through deserts and ice fields during our life, before the Almighty claims us – this little fellow is only taking a shortcut – avoiding all the hardnesses and disappointments that befall so many, on the way to the grave”. Was I a coward? Maybe. Aren’t we all, about many things? Now, when I see a particularly beautiful sunset, I think of little Ned, and him being part of it.

Molecules may be all we are. Specks of carbon in the limitless Universe. The huge space rock that wiped out dinosaurs and most other species all those millions of years ago, threw up enough dust to blot out the sun for ages, and so doomed any survivors of the impact and fireball.. Some of that dust will still be up there in the stratosphere, mingling with interstellar fragments that fall towards us every day.

The winter nights of my youth, 70 years ago. I would be out in the cold dark fields trying to catch something to eat – rabbit, hare, pigeon, pheasant.. Overhead – in those times of no electricity, and few motors – the luminous silky scarf of the Milky Way wrapped our nights in its eternal ransluscent mantle, letting us humans know that we hadn’t come all that far from the stone age. Occasional tiny flecks of galactic dust would hit our stratosphere, and burn out at huge speed, and provide a fireworks display, all for me alone, standing in some lonely field, thinking I was looking at “Shooting Stars”. An odd speck of cosmic dust would get through, on those silent nights in old Kilkenny County.

The only sounds would be the love-sick howling of a vixen {mostly responsible and blamed for the dreaded Banshee’s scream.} If there was ever the odd Fairy Woman, she certainly was closer then. And now I look back at those lost times, and long for them. The same as the old horse used to look at the Creamery car, and wish he was useful again, after tractors doomed a million of his kind…

Atoms of dust in the sky-world are also made too of the remnants of my lovely daughter Noreen, who would still be with us but for the hands of another. I don’t often talk about her. I’m unable to. She lived an uproarious and dangerous life, always close to the edge. One terrible night, the black beast of death came for her. And you cannot ignore that awful reaper. Now she is but an atom in the ionosphere, circling unknowingly the planet of her loves and misfortunes. The day she was consumed by fire and sent up a huge tall chimney was one of the worst days of my life. And I’ve had a few.Will I ever find her? Will a speck of my future dust pass near a speck of Ned or Noreen? That’s all I hope for, in the long dream-filled nights of my old age. Heaven would be out of the question for all three of us, for different reasons. That is a place for religious, and rules are rules.

Here’s to the future, folks. Make what you will of it.

Ned E



The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.


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