The fourth word

Mary in the Piper's Stone Circle


I don’t much like sadness.  It is heavy and wet.  It’s feet are plodding and slow.  It’s arms are limp and untouched.  It’s eyes are downcast and bleary.  It has to do with an ache in the marrow of you.  It has to do with an awareness you are alone before all things.  Maybe you made the wrong turn way back when, and there is no turning back now from this long way.  Maybe life betrayed you with an enormity of loss.

I’ve known times of sadness, some of them pretty deep.

I’m sure you have known of it too.

I don’t much like sadness.

Many, if not most of you, have heard me tell the story I read many years ago about a woman whose daughter had died too young.  Some months had passed.  She was walking with a good friend and said to that friend, “I don’t know if I can make it through this.”  The friend immediately thought of all the reasons this mother was sure to make it through the valley of the shadow of death.  She had a resilient spirit.  She had other children.  She was a person who had helped others in times of loss.  She was invested in her work, her church, her community.  The friend thought all these things and said none of them.  What she said instead was, “I don’t know either.”  The mother said it was at that moment that she knew she would get through.  Her friend had met her where she was . . . not where she was capable of being, but where she was.

Loss.  Heartache.  Devastation.  Oppression.  Injustice.

the potato famine

vegetable & fish dealersThese are woven into the fabric of Ireland as clearly as the softness of the Dingle Peninsula under the ever-changing clouds and mist and sun, as seen, from across the Bay at Kells.

On the second day of our nine with Mary Meighan in Glendalough, she said, “I’ve read your proposal to the Lilly Endowment for your sabbatical.  I wonder, though. . .   Mary MeighanI like vibrancy and beauty and grace.  But, there is sadness in aging too.  Those of us in Ireland do death and dying very, very, very well.  At 9/11, we stopped everything in the country for a day of mourning in solidarity with you.  When my mother died we held a three-day wake at her/our house, and her body was here all the while.  We know how to mourn here.  I wonder. . . ”

On the second day in Dublin, we happened by, and then into, the Oriel Gallery where we discovered the work of Markey Robinson. In the book about his art, Markey – 30 Years at the Oriel Gallery, are these words:

. . . Markey’s paintings are never pastiche; they display a consistent flavor of Irish melancholy and pathos which grips our sensitivity.  The hallmark of his style is a virile post-famine like landscape which evokes in our subconscious the dreams and shibboleths of our ancient culture.

            Undaunted, he shares with us his memories, his dreams, his loves and through his special magic, all our yesterdays become our todays and perhaps even our tomorrows. . .

            Behind his paintings is an impulse which is profound and real:  some compositions of searing poverty depict shawled women, occasionally accompanied by their children waiting patiently by the water’s edge looking out to sea.  They must go and we must bideSilent, still, almost ancillary women anticipating the safe homecoming of their menfolk who will bear with them the fruits of the sea to nourish the wee ones; women, it seems, with whom disappointment and dismay co-exist.  Markey generally avoids portraying their features, preferring instead to allow us to interpret our own image of resilience.  Hope for these quiet Waiting for their menfolkproud women seems to be a lottery; yet there is no suggestion of angst, no urgency, no greed.  Just a calm resignation, each isolated perhaps in her own solitude which imparts great serenity and an acceptance of the way life is.  Thus the effective exploration of his varied themes eliminates any pity we might feel for these ordinary decent people stuck in Anticipationwhat erroneously appears to be a hopeless situation, as Markey bestows on them a majestic dignity.




hmmmmmmmm . . .


Over and again we have encountered the profound sadness woven into the fabric of this island’s human history:  invasions, tenacity in fierce weather, 800 years of British oppression, the great potato famine (compared here to the holocaust), poverty, unemployment, the waning of the Celtic Tiger.

And . . .

every where we have been . . .

every where . . .

we have encountered joy.

Sometimes it is portrayed in great art (poem, painting, sculpture, fabric) sometimes it is found in the ancient buildings restored, but often it has been expressed in brief witticisms for living well, such as this one shared with us yesterday by Agnes.  It was spoken often to her by her mother Agnes' dad & mumwho lived long into her nineties.  She birthed and raised, with her husband, eight children.

“We only have what we can give away.”

“We only have what we can give away.”

“We only have what we can give away.”





Agnes' dad rescuing a stranded boater



Ordinary decent people.

Majestic dignity.




So it is we have added the fourth word, tears, to vibrancy and beauty and grace in the title of our ruminations about Celtic wisdom for aging.   All four are woven in the fabric, yours and ours, of aging well.  Not one or two, but all four.

Surely, even as there is a grey, brown dingeold cottage within the heritage of poverty and oppression here, so also, as people gather the bits and pieces . . . the contradictions . . . and somehow hold them all . . . there are deep wells of resilience here in Ireland.

Kells Bay swimmers

into the water we go


May you know these four within you:

Vibrancy born of five senses

Beauty born of creation

Tears born of suffering

Grace born of God.


Published by philandpatricia

we live in Northport, MI

12 thoughts on “The fourth word

  1. Dear Phil & Patricia – All of this is an amazing journey you are sharing with us, whomever we are. Loss is around us this week as an accident that happened to a church youth group claimed one 17 yr old girls life and yet amazingly 2 others will survive and be OK.
    My Kathryn is affected because one of her friends is one of the survivors. It could easily have been my girl so it’s affected me too. Your words and images help greatly. Being 1/2 Scottish and 1/4 Irish the call of Erie is strong. It looks every bit as beautiful as I have always heard and seen. Thanks for all of your amazing pictures and poems and people,
    tis grand indeed!! Enjoy and thanks again for sharing!!
    Susan R.

  2. I have always tried putting into words my feelings of loss, Of being without my” Don”, You said it right, It is an “Ache” in my marrow, My being, My soul, But, My Marrow is me! He was | is my marrow, Wow, I miss you two!

  3. Phil, your words and pictures are so wonderful. They touch me. Thank you and PW. Blessings to you both for your sharing.

  4. Thanks for this. Just had a great conversation about resiliency yesterday. My inkling is that naming the sadness makes it less heavy to carry – at least i hope so. Love you guys! (PS: Just some pix you sent via google a month ago. Better late than never I guess!)

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