20 October 2018
A photograph … and a letter
to my ten-year-old self
I have few photographs of myself as a child, and because of a dysfunctional upbringing and many moves, my memories of my childhood are jumbled and mixed up, difficult to access at times, perhaps because I fear what may lay beneath.
It was not always an unhappy childhood, indeed there were times of great happiness and certainty of love. There were times of knowing I was at home and knowing I was loved, and I still think I was the favourite grandchild in the house in Moonwee, outside Cappoquin.
But I recently came across a photograph of me as a child that was sent to me some months ago. Looking at the photograph, I cannot say I was very happy at the time. I think I am a ten-year-old, my foster parents had moved to Rathfarnham Road, but this photograph is taken at the house in Harold’s Cross my parents were then living in.
I remember the pain of wanting to live instead on Rathfarnham Road or even back in Cappoquin. I missed the stimulus in that house in Cappoquin of being surrounded by books on the classics, history and the arts – I had made my first tentative efforts to learn classical Greece and had read histories of Japan and China.
I had moved around in schools and was slipping back, I think to everyone’s surprise. I was now in a house with no music – no piano, not even a record player – and there was no-one who understood my passion for sport at the time. It took two pitying uncles to recognise my interest in sport of all sorts and to bring me to rugby, soccer and hurling matches.
By 10, my cultural stimulus was being provided by the Beano, the Eagle, the BBC, and whatever I found in the library in Rathmines. I had become an avid reader of daily newspapers.
As I look at my complexion in this photograph, I recall people asking whether I was Jewish or Mediterranean, and I recall how by then, because of many moves, I had learned to speak BBC English so I could be understood wherever I found myself living.
Coming across this photograph jolted me, and it reminded me of some of the angst I must have experienced at the time, although in those days no-one knew how to identify it or respond to it. Some time later I ran away, and my absence went unnoticed for many hours. Walking brought me to explore places my parents never wanted me to know about but that enriched my appreciation of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.
Later, I would run away from the paths I was being steered towards. I read in The Irish Times earlier this week how someone who was my contemporary at Jones Lang Wootton when I was training as a chartered surveyor is now on a salary of €300,000, with a bonus of 50 to 70 per cent of his salary. But this was never going to be the fame and fortune I would seek.
Looking at this photograph also brought to mind all those ‘letters to my younger self,’ and I wondered what I would now write to my 10-year-old self, and would I ever listen to thoughts I shared.
Do not worry about giving and receiving love, or not being able to give or receive love. In just a few years, you will come to know you are worth loving just because you are. You will know the love of God in a way that will stay with you for ever, and allow you to understand who you are and why you are in the world.
Do not worry about not knowing where you fit in the families you know. You will know great love, and eventually come to know the true meaning of family.
You are never going to be a great footballer, despite it being an obsession at the moment. But you are going to enjoy sports as a spectator, and that will be more than good enough.
You have two ambitions now – to be an architect or to be a journalist. You will never become an architect, and the alternative path of training as a chartered surveyor will never lead you onto a career path. But you will learn to enjoy architecture as an art form, and it will bring you great pleasure and fun.
You may hate school and schools at the moment. But hold on to the joys that education is going to bring you. School days will get better at Gormanston, and you will find the confidence and fun that comes with returning to education in your 20s and 30s.
Little do you know now the academic promise that is ahead of you. But let that take its own course over time. Try to enjoy the present as a present.
Time is not a commodity. You cannot buy and sell it. But this time is not wasted, and there is no such thing as wasted experiences … there are only experiences that people fail to learn from.
You may not have the pleasure or stimulus of music at the moment, but just like being a spectator is a fully satisfying way of enjoying sport, you will find that listening is a fully satisfying way of enjoying music.
All that reading in the classics and in history that you miss now will enrich your life later, and prepare you for travels and experiences that show you how beautiful this world is, that will allow you to revel in its diversity, and that will give you a voice to speak up against injustice, violence, racism and war.
Do not be distressed about moving around. You will find places you belong in, places you feel rooted in, and you will enjoy being able to call many places home, returning to them again and again.
Don’t be concerned about complexion, accent or identity. You will be comfortable with who you are and who you become. Enjoy the diversity you find in the world, and live with your own labels instead of those others try to stick on you.
You don’t know me now, but I am happy to know you then.
You may feel alone as a child in the world today. Remember this in the future, and treat every child – and every adult – as a child created in the image of God.
You will never be rich or famous. But there are other riches waiting as promises for you. And they are founded on Faith, Hope and Love … and the greatest of these is love.