Monday, 1 August 2016

Family (3)

Last year I went to my father's birthplace, the reason for going had little to do with family but it ended up being an important trip to 'lay some ghosts to rest'.  My visit coincided with the Chinese festival of the Hungry Ghosts and there were constant reminders of the dead and remembrances of the dead. The Taoist devotions are colourful (I love Chinese Opera), but to me their underworld is a very real hell.  It has overlords and material goods are constantly needed for the happiness of the dead and the overlords need keeping 'sweet'. I have no living family left in that part of the world and I felt like I was walking with the dead as I travelled through the back streets away from the tourist routes, retracing my grandfather's trips to work and visiting the cafes my grandparents had frequented since before the Japanese Occupation.  I went to the churches where they heard Mass, were married, acted as godparents to a significant part of the area's Catholic population. Praying before the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor that my grandfather had prayed infront of every day of his working life, I felt like I was stepping back into his past and offering prayers for his intentions, and there was peace in praying for those.  I was praying for those who went missing during the war, praying for the victims of the war and the Communist insurrection that followed and I prayed for my blood family, Taoist and Catholic, the figures in the shadows, those hardly talked about, the fugitives from China, the murderer, the abused, the good, the heroic and the wicked.

This year, there is a calling to do the same in my mother's birthplace, Dublin.  There is even less of a narrative for me to go off here.  My grandmother disowned her own family except for one aunt who came over to England and was living on the Wirral. My mother is an only child and the narrative she tells is never consistent.  Grandfather was an engineer and a gentle man and grandmother a fiercely independent and head-strong, self-made woman who ran her own fashion house, I remember them well but we never discussed our history. I simply don't know what pain there was in my family's past in Ireland, just that everybody seemed to be running away from something and I just want to go and stare it in the face.

 And that seems to be the point, I know there are some deep wounds, but the story behind them has got lost and indeed is not important because the telling of any tale distorts the truth and it becomes legend. Place is important and walking streets and visiting places of significance can do much to heal wounds if approached prayerfully (it certainly worked in Penang). 

Dublin is also the place of my own birth.  I feel the need to connect to that too, there is something restless in my own soul, some connection with place that needs to be reestablished.  I need to visit places important in my own history: it is almost as if I'm being told to 'go home' one last time, pick something up that I carelessly left behind and have forgotten about but will recognise when I see it and wonder how I ever survived without it..... Or perhaps I simply have too much time to think.....
The Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin, where my journey of bewilderment and 'wrong turns' started over 47 years ago.
*****

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