LOUISE O'NEILL: We must remember we are only human

We think we should struggle in life. But really, all we have to do is let go and ask a higher power for help, writes Louise O’Neill

LAST week, I wrote about swimming in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since I was a teenager. I’d always loved swimming at Inchydoney Beach, but had stopped when I found myself becoming more self conscious due to cripplingly negative body image.

I explained what a magical experience it was, that July afternoon at Barleycove when I finally satisfied my yearning for salt water, but something else happened that day. Earlier, I was eating lunch when I was suddenly inspired to visit Mizen Head. It would be amazing. Those cliffs, the terrible wildness, the wind blowing the cobwebs away after another night’s sleep broken by a dead heat pressing down upon me. Perfect.

It was a terrible decision, it transpired, as I navigated the twisting, narrow roads on one of the hottest days of the summer, in a car that didn’t have air conditioning. I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast when I pulled into Barleycove beach, the windows fully rolled down in a desperate attempt to feel a hint of a breeze on my burning face.

“Was that Oprah Winfrey you were listening to?” a woman asked as I stepped out of the car. “I thought I recognised her voice.”

“It was,” I replied. “Do you ever listen to Super Soul Sunday?” She shook her head so I continued. “It’s about positivity, spirituality.” I explained. “You know. Typical Oprah stuff.”

We smiled at each other, and I gave her a small wave as I walked towards the beach. When I returned, a t-shirt on over a dripping wet swimsuit, my feet bare, the woman was still there. I was in the driver’s seat before I noticed she had approached the car, leaning in the open window on the opposite side.

“You know,” she began. “I think my favourite episode of the Oprah show was the time when she spoke to the survivor of a plane crash. Have you seen that one?” I had not, I told her.

“It was this man who had been in a terrible plane crash,” she said. “He believes that as he watched the other passengers die, he saw sparks of light burst from their bodies. He had this sudden realisation that the brighter the spark, the more love that person had experienced in their lifetime. In the end, he said it was his mission now to live his life in such a way that would ensure that his spark was as bright as it possibly could be when he passed away.”

She reached into her pocket and drew out a sticker, about the size of a postage stamp.

“Here,” she said. “I want you to have this.”

There was a depiction of Jesus Christ on it with ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ written across the top. I looked at her in confusion.

“Sometimes,” she said “We think that we have to do all of this by ourselves.

We think we should struggle in life. But really, all we have to do is let go and ask a higher power for help. We must remember we are only human.

“You know,” I said slowly, taking the sticker from her. “I really needed to hear that today.”

She smiled. “It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?”

(Note: When I told my father this story, he asked:, “And did she disappear in a puff of smoke afterwards?”)

Others have asked me since if I was annoyed by her presumption that I was Christian, or indeed, religious in any way. I wasn’t.

I’ve spoken before about how important my faith was to me, and how utterly lost I felt when I realised the Church was not only fallible, but actually complicit in a culture of shame, silence, and abuse. While I still have respect for individual people within the Church, the institution as a whole is poisoned at its roots — the blood on its hands is indelible.

Perhaps that’s the reason why, when I wrote last week’s column, I felt a certain reluctance to tell this part of the story.

I knew a lot of readers might feel uncomfortable when they heard the name ‘Jesus’, even if they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you used ‘Source’, ‘ Universe’, or any other term attributed to the New Age movement.

We can argue all we want about how progressive a figure Christ was, how astonishingly radical. It doesn’t matter. His legacy has too often been co-opted by a certain extremism, and I can understand why people in this country feel uneasy with the idea; we have seen first-hand the damage a slavish, unquestioning devotion to organised religion can wreak.

But I am, to use that tired cliché, spiritual rather than religious. I believe, to the very core of my being, in a higher power.

I have felt that very strongly throughout my life, something guiding me, but recently I have felt disconnected. I have been trying so hard, working and putting in the effort, driving myself to keep going, keep going, keep going.

I need to make this happen all on my own. And now ... well, I’m tired. I want to trust that somewhere, out there, some being or entity far greater than I am is waiting, waiting for me to finally ask for help.

Maybe it’s okay for me to relax, even if just for a little while. Maybe it’s safe to let go.

LOUISE SAYS

READ: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. I devoured this compulsively readable book in two settings. What a character Boyne has created in Maurice Swift! He’s like Becky Sharp meets Tom Ripley. It’s a joy to read.

PICK UP: Maeve in America, Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else. The latest collection of essays from much beloved comedian, Maeve Higgins, is sharp, hilarious and insightful. Glamour said: “If Tina Fey and David Sedaris had a daughter, she would be Maeve Higgins.” — I’m not sure any writer could ask for a greater endorsement than that.


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