Sunday, 24 May 2015

Someone Great

 To Paul

There is something I need to write here. Something I need to acknowledge with words. Two days ago, someone I knew, someone so young, so good, so great, died.

All of a sudden. Just like that. Since, I have tried to put words to the devastation of it, but it's been impossible. Billy Collins was right -"how feeble our vocabulary in the face of death/how impossible to write it down..." A boulder of disbelief rises up so big that every little word is throttled by it, too trivial and weak to compete, not near enough to attest to the colossal shock that these last few days have been.  Like a bad dream that you can't wake up from. Surreal and so terribly real at the same time.

But somehow I feel I owe it to Paul to say something. Even though I did not know him as a close friend - just a classmate, a revered peer, an acquaintance, a familiar figure while growing up. He's always been someone I've liked and admired, someone I've held in the highest regard. He was always there, in the periphery of my thoughts as top of my most esteemed list. I have always thought of him fondly, and always will. 

I'm thinking now of all the times when some famous person of note died and Paul was always the first to acknowledge it on Facebook, no exceptions, with a few sincere words. He never missed actually! And now, well, now he is gone. And I want to lay down some words to honour his passing.  And I want to post it here, as Paul was someone who stopped by my blogs and commented in - for which I was really  grateful - (a post on The National - he had the greatest taste in, and love for, music :) It's not easy getting people to read your work, out of their own free will! But Paul did, acquaintance that he was. That was the kind of him. Considerate and thoughtful.

Paul was always one of my favourite people. You know those? People who you hold in the highest regard, have the utmost admiration for, who are good, decent, genuinely nice, interesting and interested in worthy things, with impeccable taste, someone whose views you whole-heartedly share and agree with, someone synonymous with your own journey in some way, someone who to you, shines that little bit brighter than everyone else. Anytime he liked a link or anything of mine on Facebook I would feel a little flush of pride - (as I'm sure others did.. ) well if it's good enough for a thumbs-up from Paul, then it must pass the muster!! He was an authority on all things from culture to current affairs to politics and was actively, articulately interested in them - his posts on social media upping the calibre of it considerably. Someone whose field was science (and brilliantly so) but who was also a clear lover of the arts - music, film, books, poetry, art. Someone who was acutely aware of the world around him and engaged with it intellectually, creatively, compassionately, fully.  Someone, who cared.

I've always felt a kind of affinity with Paul ever since we were young. He is the same age as me - our birthday 3 days apart (I've often been regaled by my mother and his of how we shared the same room in the hospital for a while at birth.) We started school together and he soon became my first crush. I still remember to this day the two of us swapping sloppy kid kisses at my 5th birthday party! (Another event that my mother and his often likes to chuckle about...!) I thought he was the bees knees then and to this day, I think my kid self was a discerning one alright to see something special in him right off.

We were in many a same class then for the next 13 years.  Paul was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known (intimidatingly so), always top of the class, an easy feat for him. He excelled at every subject, not just academically, but with real talent. I was especially always in awe of his artwork in Junior Cert which would be brought in by our clearly wowed teacher as an example of pure genius-at-work. (It was at that moment that the rest of us amateurs knew we were screwed...). He was also one of the most modest and humble intelligent people I've known, never bragging or boastful or one to shine a spotlight on his achievements - I suppose, the trait of a real genius.  Not to mention clever and witty, even from a young age. One of my most abiding memories from primary school is while in 4th class sitting at a table beside Paul, and him entertaining us all with the many adventures of his wooden ruler named 'Steel Tips', which he'd colored in with pen at both ends to give it its defining namesake. It kept us in the giggles during many a boring lesson. Always full of imagination and verve. 

Post-school days, I haven't seen that much of Paul. But I remember all the times I did. He would always make a point of saying hello and talking, no matter what the situation, or number of years passed. I remember one Christmas when he went out of his way to come over and say Happy Christmas in a crowded nite-club. I was disarmed by how really nice a gesture that was at the time, still am. Or how he took time to post a thoughtfully-selected song on Facebook for a birthday once - maybe one of the loveliest songs I've ever heard - in what felt like a genuine birthday wish. How often do people you know on an offhand basis do things like that?

It's strange really though what the people from your school year mean to you - it's like you're always 'together' in tackling the world; troops sent out in the same brigade to the frontlines of Life. Even though our lives may run on parallel lines now, you're still always acutely aware of them. Aware of who they are and how they are, and cheering them on. Now, when one of them dies, it's like the whole brigade is affected and takes a stumble. We're all connected and feel the shudder of the loss irrevocably. Especially when it happens just as life is getting into gear. Especially, when it's one of the very best of us.

I've had many experiences with death but this time it is a terrible fact that makes my head, not just heart, hurt. Everything rebels against the accepting the fact of it. How can someone so great, so engrossed and involved in life, just stop?  I can't believe it, no matter how I try. It is a cold hard truth that trips you up every minute, normality shot to pieces.  The world spins madly on, when it feels like it should stop. I've always felt W.H. Auden's 'Funeral Blues' poem was spot-on; but never so much until now when every line is a tolling truth. The sheer incomprehensibility of it: one day there he is engaged in all the issues of the day, specifically passionately conversing on our recent political situation in Ireland - the next day, not. An abrupt silence. And now the void of disbelief. The terrible O-gape of despair of grief. The utter utter unfairness of it. Like a contract broken harshly. And we're all in the sheer shock of the aftermath, hearts agape, still stuck and wondering on the marauding questions - What? Why? Why? A tremendous, terrible loss. You think you have a handle on the certainty of what has happened, almost accepted the anguish of the fact, but then - no, it comes around again, a new wallop, over and over again, the blow never lessening.
I once wrote a poem in Irish about a tragedy that affected our local area some years ago. Its main line has been ringing in my head the past few days: 'Dobhrón - tá sé cosúil leAigéan/Aigéan lán de ghortú agus de dheora/ 'S ní féidir linn snámh'('grief is like an ocean/full of hurts and tears/and we can't swim...') Now I think yes,  and each and every wave a new realisation of what has happened, crashing over and over again on the consciousness (..."It takes an ocean not to break..."). An unrelenting undulation of sorrow that can't be consoled, can't be subsumed into normal daily life. Land some place far far away. 

For people who knew Paul, there is a horrible gash in our world now. Nothing will be the same, because it will be without him: a vital person missing, to his family and friends, but also even, in some way, to all of us, the people who only half-knew him, whose life ran parallel to his, yet, will miss him too. He was that kind of person. I thought that in these wordless few days, if I could just find some words, I might be able to make some sense of it, apply a kind of compress of verbal comprehension. But no. How to navigate grief, how do people do it? When I think on Paul's family and friends who loved him so much... I understand that what I feel is just a mere tiny iota scrap of what they are suffering. I can't imagine it. And my heart goes out to them, breaks, for them. Paul was such an unique and special person, truly, so clearly treasured among them. I pray and hope that they find some comfort, some solace, to help them through. Memories that are made of light and a buoyant strength in each other. 

The epitaph 'a great guy' has been the tribute on everyone's lips in these days since. Said in a tone that implies - we were so lucky to have known him. We were. And in this case, the epitaphs are in no way inflated, not even a smidgeon: death has not cast a grander glow on his life, no, it has only magnified our sense of loss, for Paul really was 'great', in every sense of the word. A great student and academic, a great mind and talent, with many great accomplishments to his name. A great friend by all accounts and person to be around, great craic, a great entertainer, brilliant and keen musician too.  Someone who possessed a great inherent goodness and sensibility, a keen sensitivity and curiosity, a grandiose thoughtfulness. A genuinely affable and 'good' guy, really, incredibly likeable.  What we would say in the highest terms of local endearment and what his father professed most belovedly today: 'a wee gem.' Truly. He was one of the best - not just the best in everything he did, with superlative attributes, but best as in one of the best people you could ever know.  And I hope that his loved ones are continually reminded of that and uplifted by just what a credit and joy he was to them. Let that be another means of finding land in the coming days. 

I like to think of Paul now in the great starry cosmos, looking down on us all, taking scope of Everything, getting to examine the inner workings of the universe first-hand, maybe cracking a witty joke along the way. As Paul Durcan noted in his poem to the recently deceased Seamus Heaney, maybe Paul, like our great poet has 'become the spaceman I've always longed to be - In flight - breaking the sound barrier out in the cosmos - which... Has always been my dream, my home, my Elysium.'  I like to think of him even rubbing shoulders with Heaney, and all the other greats lost to us, settling in with an array of like-minded thinkers as well as passed family members. Maybe The Man Above/The Powers That Be were in such desperate need of  some real good wit and intelligence up there, that out of the entire world - Paul was the only candidate perfect enough to fit that bill. Or there was some pressing universe issue that needed immediate attention from the absolute best there was. As I can't, for the life of me, think of any other reason as to why he had to go so quick, so soon, so much to the loss of all around him. 

A son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, an uncle, a boyfriend, a best friend, a friend, a colleague, or just a fond acquaintance, a kindred spirit, an admired person: to know Paul was a privilege, and he will never be forgotten in the minds and hearts of those who did.  He has made a mark that won't easily be erased. It's so desperately hard to believe he's gone; but hopefully not so much to believe that - as the song says - there is a light that never goes out. And his is a bright and beautiful one. A melody that has lodged itself in our hearts, to stay forever. 

It must be true - the best really do go first.  You were the first of us to go Paul, undaunted pioneer. You are and will be missed by so many, and so so much.   
Safe home now, friend. 
Rest in starry peace xx


  1. Siobhan, I am deeply moved by your obituary and even though I never had the privilege to know Paul I feel as though I knew him as a great human being. My sympathy goes out to you, his family and all who knew him. I pray that you and his family are helped to cope with the loss by the beautiful memories of his greatness. A big warm hug. Sarabjeet


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