Creatures of Habit

When I was training to become a teacher, one of my school placements was in a remote village. I knew the local priest who had been a radical supporter of a youth program I was involved with at the time. We went out for a beer one dreary, foggy night. It was a place where time seemed to stand still. I recall the public phone disturbing the silence. Without warning, I found myself racing to a remote farmhouse with a man whose job, I suddenly realised, involved administering the last rites to the dying. In the most isolated, windy, stark place imaginable, we were greeted by an elderly farmer whose wife had just passed away. He cried like a child as he led us inside.

I vividly recall a scene of frugal decency and absolute, desolate poverty. This distraught man insisted on making us tea and ensuring we were looked after. It was, and remains, the most humbling experience of my life. The bare, damp wall was adorned with a picture of some Pope and John F. Kennedy under a faded tricolour. We sat awkwardly at a kitchen table covered with a plastic tablecloth. There was a biscuit tin filled with tea leaves and an old jam jar with sugar in it. I’ll never forget these details. I’ll never forget the profound, sad kindness of it all. It was a windy night and the rain attacked the windows with venom. It was yet so silent, so empty.

“I’d turn the telly on,” he said, “but it’s been broken for years and years. She still loved it, all the same.”

Then, shrugging, “Sure we are creatures of habit, God help us.”

I think of him now and again.

And that simple truth.