THE FACT OF THE MATTER
The tiny fingers. Just four weeks in this world. Holding on to something warm and made of flesh. Tactile. Holding on to an aged and bony, if not yet quite withered, finger of — though she does not know it yet — her granddad on her mother’s side. That other sentient being who feeds her and keeps her warm and lulls her to sleep. Only to awake again and try and make sense of all the sounds and still yet blurred sights of this place called Life.
I am long old enough to have the bus pass. Yet, the sights and the sounds of this place we call Life are still a mystery to me after all these years of philosophical musings and inquiring debate. That, and the unfathomable miracle of a tiny, beautiful baby girl, all brand new, looking up at me, a little quizzical and perplexed as to what is this thing called Life and this, feeling is it?, warm, fuzzy feeling called love.
The day before I call to visit my fourth granddaughter and her older sister I call to visit neighbours just up the road. I have not seen much of him and his wife during the years of the pandemic. His wife is momentarily away, so he and I sit in the good room, with its ceiling-high cases of fine books, on comfortable couches and drink strong tea and catch up with each other.
We talk about life, love and the whole damn thing. About the children and the grandchildren, and how old is she now, how tall now is he, and do they not they just grow up so fast. And, so, the conversation turns to ageing and getting old and how great that bus pass is. And how we just do not do some things anymore because we can’t do some things anymore. What a little fecker this getting old is. But how not so long ago in the scheme of things life was brutish and short.
So, we pour some more tea, against the fading of the evening light, two old guys in their bodies like an old, familiar overcoat but as we sup we reflect on how lucky we are to have reached this grand old age in relatively fine fettle and sure isn’t 70 the new 50s or something like that?
Our conversation ups the ante a bit and turns to Galileo and Einstein and how that Irish-born, world-renowned photographer would like to have captured Jesus on her sturdy Nikon or Countess Markievicz with her rifles under her ruffles. Of the inherent wrongs of religiosity but that the Pope is a scientist by trade. We talk too of music, his new mandolin — a gift from his son — and the works of Steve Earl. Of the humour of David Sedaris. Of the changing industry that is newspapers and of the unfathomable size of the universe and the limited ability of the human brain to comprehend the meaning of it all.
As we drain the teapot, he asks again how my daughter, her husband, and my new grandchild are doing.
Just wonderful, I say.
I bring up the subject of the Great Famine of ‘47 but just as a focal point in mankind’s history. I could just as easily mention the Black Death of the 14th century which killed between 75 and 200 million souls in Western Europe and North Africa or the Crusades of old.
Now, here’s a thing, I say. Your great-great-great-whatever grandmother and great-great-great-whatever grandfather of 1847 must have survived the famine and likewise their ancestors going back aeons. The same for me. Otherwise, you and I would not be sitting here right now. Experiencing this thing called Life. Or, to put it another way, if you and your lovely wife had not made love on the nights you conceived your three wonderful children but rather the night after or some such, then those wonderful children would not be in the world right now.
There might be three children who look or sound like them. But it would not be them. It’s that we are born at all and it is also that individual self-centred experience of Life that is miraculous in itself.
Next day I am with my granddaughter and, as I watch those tiny, little fingers grasp mine, I think: Is this miracle in itself not enough to sate my innate curiosity about this thing called Life.
And I know, without hesitation, it is…