“A chuid de Fhlaitheanas dha” (His shore of Paradise to him)

A “Trip to Bountiful” with an FBI Agent Saint called Bob.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I was finishing up a tour with Bob Hickey, his wife Kate, and some of Bob’s family and friends. This wasn’t the first time Bob had been on a tour with us, and God knows he had been back to Ireland 20 times or more. But I had a feeling this would be his last time coming home to the birthplace of his mom and dad. It turns out, much to my own broken heart, that it was indeed Bob’s final return home to his beloved Ireland. Bob went home to “Fiddler’s Green” a year ago this month and it took months to have the words and ability to write about this.

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I met Bob Hickey back in 2010 when I was “showing the flag ” of our company, even though we were not yet officially Wild West Irish Tours,  at a Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) event in Fairfax, Virginia. Bob did not know anything about us but he immediately took me under his wing. I learned from him that he was a Navy guy and retired FBI. What he didn’t tell me was that he was the founding Chairperson of the Washington D.C. CCE and was chosen “Gael of the Year” at the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He was a legend in the D.C./VA/MD for his work of charity in and around the Irish-American community.

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In March 2011, I took leap of faith and launched our business at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, Va. Bob and Kate Kane, his wife,  came to the launch and we were delighted to see them again. At one point, Kate pulled me aside and said to me “you know, we have been to Ireland over 20 times now, and Bob’s parents are from there. We have never been on a tour. Tell me something esoteric about your tours that would help me make a decision about taking your tour.” Well, first I felt the need to go look up what “esoteric” meant, but whatever I babbled, Bob and Kate and his family booked a tour with us for 2012. I can’t even begin to express how massive this was to us. The fact that they trusted us, a brand new tour company, owned by two newcomers, gave us such a blast of confidence that we were walking on clouds and really began to believe in ourselves and the possibilities. Of course, we had to deliver the tour or a lifetime, and apparently, we did. But, they also overlooked our many growing pains.

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In the meantime, Bob and I became best mates, and shared our sea stories together, and we both had a keen interest in the Civil War. Bob was the kind of guy that would have your back. In fact, Bob thought I might like to join the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and I did just that in a Fairfax chapter. Well, I went straight out and pissed off one of the officers for pushing our tours too much (so he said), and, em, I also poached their email address list, and sent out a couple innocent messages about the Wild West of Ireland. Next thing you know, (after I told this officer to pack sand) I was banned from the AOH. Well, Bob would have none of that and he defended me like a young F. Lee Bailey, and eventually got me reinstated. I told Bob I was ok with being banned but he said “Mikey, you don’t want this on your record or reputation.” He was of course exactly correct, and he helped me smooth feathers and we were able to get past “Hiberinangate.”

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When Bob and Kate called me to tell me they were interested in going on our Northern Tour in 2016, I was still a little woozy from some radiation,  (cancer treatment) but I made damn sure that I was back in Ireland for him. Bob was in his 80’s now, and when I saw him in Dublin, I thought of the book and film, “The Trip to Bountiful.” The story is about a woman getting late in life, who wanted to go home to her town of Bountiful, one last time. It became a spiritual journey for me, as I am certain it was for Kate. Just to bring this gentle, humble and faithful man around to places that EVEN HE, had never seen before, was gift and a Grace that I was blessed to be a part of. Bob, was slowing down alright but he still loved a good pint and the Irish music. Believe it or not, one night he came out of a restaurant in Moville, Donegal, (I was just arriving to pick them up) and he told me they were rushed out by a cranky older man, who was waiting for a table with his family. Well, I was gonna go have a word with this guy, and then I realized it was no other than Nobel Peace Prize recipient, John Hume. Looking at both of these old souls together, I would say one man was no better or worse than the other.

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With every place we visited, and with every conversation by the fire, I knew I needed to savor and cherish these moments together. We all had a rich, fun and wonderful time together. For all I know, it was even esoteric. I will never forget it.

By March of 2017, Bob and Kate were back at the Auld Shebeen with us for a show with the Ganley Sisters and Donegal Hill. Bob was out selling raffle tickets for a free trip to Ireland. There I was with him on stage, helping him schlep the tickets for my pals at the….. AOH.

I still have hanging from my bed board the rosary Bob got me from Medjugorje – or was it from Fatima? Whichever it is, they are a treasure to me, and every night I pray with them, and sweetly recall “The Trip to Bountiful.

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“The Light for Stop”

This is the story of “Ireland’s Greatest writer” and his immediate artistic response to the Omagh bombing, as seen through the eyes of a new neighbor.

Waugh Stories

Reliving “Sunday, 16th of August, 1998” with Dermot Healy

The Omagh Bombing

Walking along the always windy Ballyconnell beach, up to the mysterious ancient rocky shore known as “Serpent’s Rock,” I knew I was being watched. As they say in this part of Ireland, I could feel the “Hillman’s eyes.” I had my dog Rocky with me, and we were joined by a merry border collie, who pushed big stones with her nose, to beckon me to throw them for her to chase.  I had just moved into a 300 year old cottage, right beside the beach, and a 2 minute walk to the home of, who Roddy Doyle called “Ireland’s best writer.” Roddy Doyle was my favorite writer.

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After and hour or so, I began heading back to the cottage, which was also known as “old Jimmy Foley’s place.” The border collie kept walking with me, and I really…

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“The Light for Stop”

Reliving “Sunday, 16th of August, 1998” with Dermot Healy

The Omagh Bombing

Walking along the always windy Ballyconnell beach, up to the mysterious ancient rocky shore known as “Serpent’s Rock,” I knew I was being watched. As they say in this part of Ireland, I could feel the “Hillman’s eyes.” I had my dog Rocky with me, and we were joined by a merry border collie, who pushed big stones with her nose, to beckon me to throw them for her to chase.  I had just moved into a 300 year old cottage, right beside the beach, and a 2 minute walk to the home of, who Roddy Doyle called “Ireland’s best writer.” Roddy Doyle was my favorite writer.

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After and hour or so, I began heading back to the cottage, which was also known as “old Jimmy Foley’s place.” The border collie kept walking with me, and I really began to feel the eyes on my back. So I turned around to see a man up on the hill, standing as the wind was whipping through his white hair and beard,  and the sun was dropping. Jesus if he didn’t look like Bull McCabe (Richard Harris) from the Irish movie, “The Field.” I thought that maybe he thought some stranger was trying to abscond with, who I was soon to find out, “Tiny” the underwater stone fetcher, and BallyConnell Beach tour guide. So I went up the hill as this man stood his ground waiting. He told me he was Dermot Healy and I told him I had just moved into old Jimmy Foley’s cottage. We had a little bit of a chat and I was getting the feeling he was sussing out whether or not I worthy to live there. You see, Jimmy was Dermot’s muse. Jimmy was feeding Dermot the stories and the characters for his many books. Satisfied that I was not trying to nick Tiny, we parted company and my pal Rocky and I were happy enough to have met our neighbors. Dermot offered to meet me the next night at the thatched pub called Ellen’s bar. I lit a fire for Rocky and listened to the wind howl off the ocean.

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“A Slice of Lamb”

To paraphrase Irish singer/songwriter, Paul Brady, “this wasn’t meant to be no happy song.” I met Dermot for that pint x 5, in the early evening at Ellen’s Pub. That is when I met the great author, Leland Bardwell. I did not say one word about his or her or any poetry, and the main reason was I never read any of their works. We just talked about everything. Dermot and Leland were the Patriarch and Matriarch of Ballyconnell, Maugherow, and were beloved. After the pints got going Dermot said, “Mick, give us a song.” I said I would if he gave a poem.  I was ready with my party piece and sang a song I sang to my babies as I rocked them to sleep. It was “I Will” by the Beatles.  I think he and the pub folk were mildly impressed that I didn’t flinch. So Dermot returned the favor by giving me a Yeats poem and one of his own. Then, it was time for Dermot “to go home to Helen for the spuds.” I was just saying Slan to him when he asked, “would you like to join us for a slice of lamb?” We set a time and I wobbled home to the cottage, which actually was set on “Loughan” The Irish for “the place of the birds.” The walk with the birds would do me good.

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“This Wasn’t Meant to be no Happy Song.”

Paraphrasing Irish Singer/Songwriter, Paul Brady’s line from “The Island” – no this is not a happy song at all. This was around 2001 and Dermot had just released his book “The Reed Bed.” I went up for the spuds and tea and when we were finished, Helen excused herself, I suppose to do the washing up. Dermot suddenly became very serious with me. He said “you like poetry, you do.” I said of course. He took a sip of his tea and said “do you know about Omagh?” I said I did and “Jesus, 29 people killed up there in the North a couple years ago.”  “It was Sunday the 16th of August” he said quietly. He then got out of his chair and said “I’ll be right back.”

 

He came back holding a DVD, and asked if I minded if he played something for me. I was delighted to say yes, but I kept with his mannerism and stayed a little solemn. He put on the recording. It seems he had just been to the North and he was asked to recite a particular poem from his new book. It was an auditorium filled with people from as they say “both communities.” In the video, Dermot was sitting on the one chair on the stage. All he said was “Sunday, the 16th of August.” It was just him and the wounded Irish people in Northern Ireland. Dermot is from Cavan on the border. In the video, he started reciting the poem, a poem I was not aware of. In the middle of the poem, Dermot, who was sitting next to me now, got up slowly and walked out of the room. He came back when it was finished. He had tears in his eyes. The man, this Bull McCabe was crying in front of a Yank. He couldn’t bear hearing his own words about that terrible tragedy.

And so, we cried.

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Please listen to Dermot and cry along with us: http://www.troublesarchive.com/artforms/contemporary-music/piece/sunday-16th-august-1998

“As if the bomb had damaged time itself.”

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~In memory of the 29 innocents of Omagh. 20 years ago today.

Dermot Healy RIP 2014. The President of Ireland came to his funeral in Ballyconnell

Barnabas’s Field of Dreams

Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past…They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.”

I lived quietly on a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery for two years. In that time I found that people come to Holy Cross Abbey on silent retreats for peace, prayer, silence and respite from the world. It was my job to help the 21 monks, living there accommodate the guests, retreatants, pilgrims and travelers to do this. I looked after the retreatants, washed dishes, served dinner, read to them at meals and tried to give them what they came for: silence. Silence never came easy to me, but Philadelphia-born Brother Barnabas was often at the right place at the right time to help me learn the benefits of silence.
I had many an occasion to walk up from the retreat house to the monastery for one thing or the other. No one observed silence, especially the “Great Silence,” more than Brother Barnabas. Believe me, he let me know with vigor, when it was in force. But when we were able to breach a bit, I found he also had a lovely gentle side. You could just tell he had been down the road a time or two. I later learned that he chose the name “Barnabas” to honor St. Barnabas, who came in late in the game (so to speak). Barnabas was 55 years old when he joined the monks. He had a full life and realized he had a calling. He was being called. So a tough guy from Philly ends up in the fields of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. Baking fruitcake, no less.
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The Fields of Holy Cross Abbey

“Man, I did love this game. I’d have played for food money. It was the game… The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?
I used to love travelling on the trains from town to town. The hotels… brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I’d play for nothing!” ~Shoeless Joe
 I had heard from another monk (Father Mark) that Br. Barnabas played baseball back in the day, and was what they called, a “barnstormer.” I  loved baseball as a kid, and this fascinated me to the point that I had to chase him down and ask him about it all! Of course, he wouldn’t talk about it in the monastery, but to my surprise, he left a book for me in my mailbox at the monastery with a note. Now, when I have gotten books from the other brothers, they tended to be spiritual in nature. I loved reading whatever was sent my way. It gave me an insight into them. But baseball?
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Br. Barnabas left for me “The Glory of Their Times – The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men who Played It.” Given Brother Barnabas’s sometimes cranky ways, or as as Fr. James put it,  “his adjusting to a variety of personalities and opinions very different from his own, in addition to the discipline of obedience and conformity to the common life” – I was surprised to receive this book. But I was curious why he wanted me to read this book, of all the books, he could have suggested. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after I finished the “Glory of Their Times,” that I realized what might have been his motivation.
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Brother Barnabas and his Fruitcake

It seems to me that Br. Barnabas was laying down a path for me, through the words of the men quoted in this book. They were a bunch of “barnstormers” just like Barnabas. I think he wanted me to have a chance to learn about the values of a different time, and how perhaps they would become relevant to me now. Baseball was the medium in which he communicated with me when he wasn’t “enforcing silence.”
Shoeless Joe Jackson: Hey, is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: No, it’s Iowa.
Missing my own father, I once had a “Field of Dreams” moment with Br. Barnabas at the retreat house (he loved to come down for a cookie when he wasn’t walking the fields or baking fruitcake). We were talking about his baseball barnstorming days. I suddenly, straight out of “Field of Dreams,”  blurted out, “would you like to have a catch one day? I have 2 gloves and a ball.” For a few seconds, I saw his eyes light up with  possibility. And then the trance suddenly broke, and he slowly turned his eyes back toward me. He said, as if he were a father not wishing to disappoint a son, “That is not something I would do as a monk. But thank you.”
He stayed true to what he had become for himself. And gave me a little coaching.
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“This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

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The Glory of their Times

In memory of the “Keepers of the Field” – Brother Barnabas, Brother Joe of Sligo, Abbot Robert, Abba Mark, Brother Michael, Fr. Paschal, Brother Stephen, Fr. Andrew, Br. Gerald, Br. Edmund, Brother James, Brother Benedict, Fr. Malachy, Fr. Edward,  Brother Edward, and all the monks before them and after.

“People will come”

 

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My thanks to Father James

Sunday Best for Mom

 

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“Sorry to Bother You…”

Within a couple of hours of doing the heartbreakingly most difficult thing in my life, I was in tears, sitting on an airplane, only minutes after take-off from Tampa, Florida.

Through my blurred vision I saw a hand trying to pass me a piece of paper through the gap between the seats in front of me.

It read:

 “Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to say I’m really sorry to hear about your mother, but she’ll be in a better place soon. And at least you got to say goodbye.

That’s good. 

Keep reading that ‘complex’ book she told you to finish. I am sure it will be worthwhile.

Sincerely, Gabby Tayco (girl in front of you)”

~~~~~~~

I went to my mother on at 1:PM October 7, 2010, and I was on a mission. I walked into the door of the Hospice and went down the hall to her room. We had spoken deeply and intimately and honestly, the night before. There had been some very positive signs suddenly, and my family were talking about “miracles” and mom leaving the hospice.

But late in the evening on October 6, Anne Regan Waugh wanted none of it. “No more interventions Michael. I am adamant about this – I want to die.” As much as my heart did not want to hear my voice say this, I replied, “mom, I love you and don’t want you to go, but if this is what your wishes are, then you have to be just as adamant with everyone else as you are with me now.”

She nodded, closed her eyes as we held hands, and she fell asleep. We agreed we would have our goodbye the next day.

What does a Son do when he knows he is going to see his mother for the last time? As a small child, right up through my adult years, I would always write my mother a handmade birthday (or just about any other occasion) card, which would include a stick drawing of my mother, with a gun, shooting bullets at brooms and buckets. My caption would always read: “Dear Mom, shoot the work down.”

My mother raised 7 children, and on her birthdays as a child, the best present I thought she could ever have, was her not having to work like a slave for the day.

So, I dressed in a new suit, my Sunday best, and went to the flower shop, bought some flowers, fancy English chocolate and a card. The last bit of preparation was to stop at a hair salon to get a haircut. (Back in August my mother said to me “don’t let your hair go, like Michael Douglas has.”)

A Time for Peace

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Sacred Heart, Highbridge, Bronx

At 1: PM I was at the hospice, standing in front of her, with my father and two siblings in the room. My mother’s eyes lit up.  “Oh Michael, you look so handsome!” I told her I went out and got a haircut, just for her. I had not brought in the flowers and chocolate yet, so I told her I would be right back. I fumbled with the car rental keys in the parking lot and set off the horns right in front of the hospice. I collected myself and brought the flowers and candy into the room.

There was now also a nurse in the room and my siblings and father were sitting around the bed. Mom said to dad “look at your son – doesn’t he look wonderful?” I said something about wearing “my Sunday best” and how I got the suit just for her.

I took a deep breath and told my mother “it is time to go” and that “we agreed last night that it would be OK now.” She simply nodded and said softly, but firmly, “yes Michael”

I had sensed a change in the room, and that indeed, my mother was adamant with all, sometime before I came into the room.

Everyone softly left the room, and so I moved up close and sat down and held her hand. I brought the flowers up to her nose to smell them and told her how the chocolates were from England. I took the card out of this bouquet of flowers and took another breath and read it to her.

“Dearest Mother,

You really CAN shoot the work down now. I love you more than all knowing, and words.

Your son,

Michael” 

She smiled softly and seemed to really like the card. We talked for a little while and she asked me if I was going back to Ireland. I told her my plans to marry Trish, substitute teach in Virginia and get the business going in the spring. This reminded me of an Irish proverb I read that very morning. I told her that the proverb was “he who is lucky in the morning, is lucky in the evening too.” I told her how she was lucky in the morning of her life, having survived a fall from a tenement building in Harlem as an infant, and everything else that happened in her early years of the Depression. “And now at the age of 80, you are lucky to have all her family with her and so many people near and far who love you.”

She took her own deep breath and said “Michael, you have been an inspiration. I don’t know what I would have done without you the last few months in the hospital. All your readings, the meditations and prayers…” She then said “you were always a joy to me and you always livened my life.”

I said how I loved that through the years, no matter where I was, we would have wonderful long chats on the phone and we always ended them laughing. I said “Mom you gave me the gift of humor and taught me not to take myself or anything else so serious” I told her how I loved always coming back on leave with my daughters to her house and that they always felt safe and loved it there with her.

I then reached into my pocket and took out a little black book called “24 Hours a Day Book” that she sent to me when I was on a ship at the age of 18. I had held onto this book for 33 years, even if I wasn’t sure why she sent it to me back then. But I had been reading these daily reflections, prayers and meditations to her in recent weeks and months from the very book. I said “you knew I had a problem a long time ago mom, and you sent me this book. It may have taken a long time for me to understand, but I know you and this book help save my life.” I then talked to her about Shaun Patrick, the Grandson she never knew, and his mother Kathleen. I asked her to look for them.

Homework from Mom

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After some silence she opened her eyes and said, (in a tone of saying goodbye) “Michael- keep reading that book. I know it can be complex but keep reading it and stay with it. You will have a wonderful life. God didn’t carry you this far to drop you now.”

I told my mother that I was very happy and asked her not to worry about me. I told her of a mystic who once said to me “you will always have something good put in front of you.” I said with a smile that I will always be ok and that I have been lucky in the morning and will be lucky in the evening.

We said “I love you” together. She said she will miss me. She said I love you once again, and I said it in return, kissed her forehead and I began to get up. “Tell Aunt Clare (her sister) I love her.”

“We are Square.”

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Two Thumbs up from my Father, Donald Waugh. 1930-2015

Unbeknownst to me, my brother Jim was standing in the corner of the room. She looked up to him and said “go get your father.” When my father, who I have been estranged from for several years, returned, he stood on the other side of the bed and waited. My mother looked up at him and said, (adamantly,) Donald, I want you to hear this. I don’t know what I would have done without Michael. He did so much for me when I was in these hospitals…the readings…meditations…keeping me company…”  She then said sternly, “I want you to shake your son’s hand.” My father put his hand out and we shook. He told me to have a safe trip home.

Finally, he came over to my side of the bed, and said with his Bronx accent, “we are square.”

Jimmy stepped up and shook my hand and said to take care. I began leaving the room and then stopped and smiled…the hardest smile I ever smiled and said to my mother “keep smelling the flowers, read my note and eat all that chocolate.”

She smiled and said “I love you” – “I love you too Mom.”

I left the room and went to the car and held back crying until I was inside. I fought the temptation of going back in there. I knew my mother would have to go through this with so many more, and I was the first, and felt an obligation to say my goodbye with dignity and with the least amount of pain for my mother. I read from my 24 hour book, prayed for strength, and started the car.

I drove away and within a minute I saw “St. Anne’s Church” and went inside to pray. I did some more crying in there and lit a candle for my mother.

As if on auto-pilot, I went to the graves of Kathleen and Shaun Patrick and placed new flowers. I told them to keep an eye out for grandma. I phoned Trish and told her I was on the way to the airport.

A Note from Heaven

When I got on the plane, I sat down, slouched to the side and phoned a close friend from the Bronx.

I began crying and could not stop. I told him about my last goodbye with my mother. I knew he would understand.

The plane was beginning to move on the runway. So, I put away the phone.

We left the ground. I was weeping softly. The plane took off to the North. I was in a trance.

When the planed leveled, I looked up from my prayer book and saw someone’s gentle fingers trying to quietly and discreetly pass me a note through the seats in front of me.

I took the note and opened it:

“Sorry to bother you…”

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Yes Mother, God always will always place something or someone good in front of me.

~~~~~~~

 

In memory of Anne Catherine Regan Waugh 1930-2010

I love you Mom and I take that complex book everywhere I go.

Michael

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The “Complex Book” with a simple message

Ailse is in The Room

Cad nach féidir a leigheas, ní mór a bheith buailte.*  ~Irish Proverb

 

Sometimes I don’t see Ailse

But Ailse is in the room

Ailse can seem small to me

I often pretend Ailse isn’t there

 

Mostly I am not afraid of Ailse

Ailse can make others uncomfortable

Ailse is all they can see

They may stay far away

 

Some can walk right into my room

And face Ailse bravely

Make Ailse seem less harmful

And hardly acknowledge Ailse

 

I don’t know how Ailse got here

I have never asked why

I had a feeling Ailse was coming

I ignored the rumbling of Ailse

 

Ailse is here to stay I’m told

I have learned to handle Ailse

But Ailse has hurt me often

I’m not alone with Ailse issues

 

Others have their Ailse

And I have my Ailse

It helps us to share about Ailse

We learn to cope with Ailse together

 

Some people can talk over and around Ailse

Refuse to allow Ailse between us

They see me and not my Ailse

We laugh and know I am not Ailse

 

Some tip toe around Ailse

Some tell me Ailse is a gift

Some do not know what to say

Because Ailse is in the room

 

My wife knows all about Ailse

My Ailse causes isolation upon her

Ailse can bring out the best in people

And both disappointment and gratitude

 

Ailse has me praying and reflecting

On the fragility and blessings of life.

When I finally leave this room,

I will travel alone.

To one of His many rooms.

 

 Postscript

Ciallaíonn ailse Ailse i nGaeilge

(Ailse means cancer in Irish)

Is é Ailse is a “eilifint bhándearg” sa seomra

(Cancer is the “pink elephant” in the room)

 

Cad nach féidir a leigheas, ní mór a bheith buailte.* 

*”What cannot be cured, must be endured” ~Irish Proverb

 

 

 

A new friend in the Infusion Room, me hydrating in the hospital and The Faerie Glen.

For Connie, Mrs. DeGennaro, Geri-Lee, Erin and Sue 

A Monk’s Last Confession

“Words Sound, Examples Thunder”

After living on a Trappist Monastery for over two years and coming and going to and from Holy Cross Abbey for twelve years, I not only got to know these Cistercian monks really well, but I knew where to find them when I needed to. Looking back through the years, I can associate a monk with a place. Let’s see, there was Fr. Paschal in the monastery laundry room, Brother Michael (the Cellarer) in, well, the cellarium, Br. Stephen, the Retreat House, Fr. James, the Chapter Room, Br. Joe, Scriptorium, Fr. Vincent, Refectory, Fr. Robert, the Abbott, in his office buried in paper, Fr. Mark, his library, Br. Efrain, the bakery, Brother Benedict in his Butterfly Garden, Brother’s Martin and Christopher, out and about taking care of the grounds, Brother Barnabas, taking strolls with his sombrero sized hat (and occasionally “enforcing silence” on me). The rest of the gang were either a bit reclusive, on temporary assignment somewhere else, living in the Hermitage, or in a nursing home.

One of the monks, Fr. Edward McCorkell, could almost always be found praying in the chapel. The place I ran into him most often however, was by the mail room – where the action is! Fr. Ed, who was born of Irish parents in South Africa and was in his mid-80’s when I first met him. He was once the Abbott and had spent years in poor communities in South America. The first time I met him I noticed he was short, thin and hunched over with age and wore glasses seemingly too big for his small but smiling face. I found out right away that one thing that was NOT small about Fr. Ed, was HIS VOICE. He had a booming voice and spoke perfect South African accented English. It was lovely to hear unless you were Brother Barnabas enforcing “The Great Silence.” He also was fluent in Latin. That may not be surprising in a monastery, but Br. Edward seemed to work some linguam Latinam into every other sentence. That first time I met him, I was introduced to him by Father Mark, who mentioned I had lived in Ireland. So, Fr. Ed gave me the McCorkell and Forde family history, emphasizing the spelling with an “e” at the end, saying “Ford-eh, Ford-eh, because, God forbid Fr. Edward’s kin would be lumped in with that e-less Ford clan. He asked me what I will be doing at the monastery, and I explained I was acting as Guestmaster in the retreat house. while Brother Stephen was absent.

He finished asking me questions with “Michael, we all welcome you here.” Maybe the most beautiful and hospitable welcome I had ever received. The Cistercians are well known for their hospitality.

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Father Edward McCorkell

Roaming the Inner Sanctums

As time went on, I would see him in the monastery halls in his white tunic, covered by a scapular and cowl. I began interrupting him when he used Latin phrases to ask what it meant. One time he used a Latin phrase and articulated the words physically by making a fist and swinging his clenched hand and arm up toward the heavens. We were talking about being role models and living as a Christian.  He was especially taken with the lay people, ordinary folks, and volunteers were such great examples in their communities. With that clench fist, swinging slowly and then finishing with a louder crescendo, he said, “Verba sonant. Examplia Tonnant.” Just as when I was a child, I would ask my Aunt Clare (Sister of Charity) when she used big words I couldn’t understand, I essentially asked “wot dat mean?”

He straightened up a bit and said, “Michael, that means words sound (but) examples THUNDER!”

In time, old age began to take its toll on Fr. Edward, mostly in the form of Dementia. I saw him on a daily basis around the monastery and he would say hello, ask my name and say “what do you do here?” Then he would (re)welcome me. It was heartbreaking to see, but we still had great fun chatting. Once I told him I would be away in Ireland for a week or so on holiday. He was so excited for me. He said, “you must call in to the McCorkells and the Forde’s. The Ford-eh’s not the Fords. There is a silent “e” at the end.” When I came home to the Abbey, I sought out Fr. Ed, by the mail room and said, “oh Father, it’s great to see you. I met loads of McCorkells and Fordes on my trip to Ireland!”  Before he could even respond with at least a smile, I said “mind you. I met most of them in the pubs and jails.” We both had a burst of laughter and I was so happy he still could understand when someone was “taking the mickey” out of him.

Trying to Pray with Pain

Not long after that day, the abbott told me that Fr. Edward was getting worse and actually broke his ankle. One problem with his condition was that he would get out of bed in the middle of the night, forgetting he had a fractured ankle, and really hurt himself. The Brothers had to take shifts all night with him to make sure their beloved brother would not try to get out of bed.

Father Robert once told me that when the monks make their vows, they expect to live their entire life at the monastery and be buried there. While Fr. Mark was a Doctor, he was also over 90 years old and could not manage all of this. The Abbott confided to me that Father Edward would be moving to Carroll Manor, a Catholic nursing home in Washington D.C. I was gutted to hear this but felt even worse knowing that I was aware of this, but this incredible man was not.  Everything was happening fast. There was an opening at the nursing home. He would be leaving us the next day and he was told, and this time it may have sank in. I still don’t know. I had to see him right away. But what do I say?

I went down to his chamber, knocked on the door and for the first time for my eyes, Father Edward was not wearing his Trappist garments. He was in a wrinkled tee shirt, trousers and unshaven. He was glum but smiled and welcomed me. I could see he was devastated but trying put on a brave face. I didn’t mention anything about him moving. Out of nowhere, I simply blurted out, “Father, can you hear my confession tomorrow?” He said “yes, of course. Be here at 8.”  He needed prodding to remember my name, but he still knew I was one of them. (My mother heard of this later and said with a laugh, “only you Michael, could find a Priest that won’t remember your sins or your penance”).

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Guestmaster’s Chamber

Father Edward was leaving the next day. I worried that he would forget that we were to meet for confession/reconciliation. So, I was prepared to just go in and say good bye.

Reconcilitation

At 0800 sharp, I arrived and knocked on the door. He opened the door and what I saw was magical. He was wearing his freshly pressed robe and scapular, with a Cross around his neck. He was shaven and it looked like he was standing completely straight. In the middle of his room was a bright red chair. It was just ordinary chair, but it looked like it was a magical chair somehow. He and the chair were glowing.

With his arm inviting me in, Father Edward said, “Michael, Jesus welcomes you.”

He was doing what he loved doing all those years as a monk; being a Priest and “comforting rather than to be comforted.” He smiled and said, “you know, you have golden hair.”

I sat, bowed my head, thanking God for this moment, looked half way up and started “bless me Father…”

We talked mostly about forgiveness. God’s forgiveness, forgiving others, ourselves and being forgiven. I spoke of emotional family issues and he listened.

When we got to the penance part, he got up and limped to his desk and began looking for something. Whatever he was looking for, he could not find it. We walked out to see Brother Michael, the cellarer who knows where everything is.  Michael whispered that there was a lovely psalm or spiritual text that Fr. Edward wanted to give me. He wasn’t sure though. We went back into his room and he opened his locker and took out a big brown bag. He sat, and quietly began going through what I realized were personal cards sent to him over the years. Hundreds of them.  He drifted away with each card, recalling the person and the occasion, smiling and making gentle sounds of joy, gratitude and appreciation. I sat there watching him and lost track of time. I was there for this.

 

Finally, he pulled out, (seemingly randomly), one of the cards. He gently placed the bag down and picked up a pen. He then looked up and asked me to spell my name. He smiled, placed the pink card in and envelope, handed it to me and said “Go in peace and pray for me dear Michael.”

When I got back to my own chambers, I opened the envelope. The front said:

 

 

 

A couple of weeks later, Fr. Mark and I drove out to visit Fr. Edward and another monk.

We got into the nursing home and pressed the button for the 5th floor.

When the door opened, there was Fr. Edward, in full regalia, just getting out of the chair next to the window by the elevator. We stepped out, he raised his arm and said, “Mark and Michael, you are very welcome.”

I couldn’t leave without getting him to say:

“Verba Sonnant – Examplia TONNANT.”

Jesus has since welcomed him home.

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Finally Getting Blogged Down

I am an old newspaper and AM radio kind of guy. For the longest time I didn’t even like the word “blog” let alone “blogging.” It was like that other low form of communicating; texting.

I wouldn’t say I have had a sea-change about either of those, but I decided I wanted to write about some of the incredible people, places and experiences I have stored up in my head and are ready to burst out.  Facebook isn’t suitable and I don’t know that I have the ability to write a memoir. But I do have stories. Lots of them. In fact, I believe I have a story for just about every person I ever knew. Chances are, some of them have a story about me.

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“Everyone has a Story”

My life has had it share of twists and turns and I have often found myself in the midst of some strange, difficult, spiritual, raucous, mystical, confounding, exhilarating, heart-breaking, and unbelievable circumstances. With all of that comes my “relationships” with people either God or luck placed in my path. I didn’t say GOOD luck. Just luck.  I have been around some fascinating characters in my life. I want to tell you about them.

A woman I have known for about 45 years and who I still call my Jewish Mother, Mrs, Lee DeGennaro (she married an Italian), told me years ago that “everyone has a story, Michael.” I think she was telling me not to be too quick to judge. I also think she was gently urging me to look deeper.

From 58 years on this planet, come the stories.

My stories.

Waugh Stories.

I hope you read a few. You just may find yourself in one of my “dispatches from the front.” 🙂 ~Michael J. Waugh

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