In the modern age (or perhaps just in the West), we rarely look backwards to the people and events that made us who we are. To what formed us in the present, giving us the quantum time-stamp of “us-ness”. There are so many variables in being the person you are at any given time that it is hilariously futile to try to quantify them. We can really only list the people and events that shaped us during our formative years – parents, siblings, friends, spouses and offspring.
Which reminds me that someone very clever once said (in a discussion about the feasibility of time travel) that to a large degree, human beings ARE time travellers. Not meaning that we all have our own personal Tardis in the back garden, but that the person we are in 2013, is simply not the same person you were in 1998 or even just a year ago. Scientists purport that in any 12-month period, approximately 98% of our atomic structure has changed, essentially making us a different person than who we were a year before. Debate is still out on whether every single cell in the body changes e.g. some say the enamel in our teeth or neuron cells do not change their atomic structure, but who is going to quibble over a few percent?
The point I am struggling to make is that whether we accept it or not, humans (and of course all life forms) are in a constant state of change and not wanting to wander into the realm of religion and the concepts of reincarnation and the afterlife, we are moving through time-space and in this process getting further away from what and whom we were in the past.
So with this in mind, during one of my frequent moments of introspection, I found myself peering back through the fog of decades for those people and events that made me who I am in July 2013. Obviously, family and friends feature predominantly, but there are countless other individuals and events who had a profound impact on my life.
I felt that it was time to give proper due to them. So here goes.
My parents Michael and Anne conjured me into this world in the same year as the Munich blasts, Watergate and the awful events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Northern Ireland. [1972 for those of you reaching for your mouse to Google it.] Patently, said events had no direct effect on me as I was a newborn but their after-effects have rumbled on around me ever since, particularly the aforementioned Bloody Sunday event, which had enormous and negative effects on life – particularly in Nothern Ireland, but also on the Republic, Scotland and England.
I was the youngest of three children and my brother (the eldest) John and sister Niamh were wonderful siblings, though I think they thought I was a spoilt twerp for my formative years. I occasionally gave them a hard time (mostly my sister – sorry sis), but they certainly looked out for me, particularly when I was a young teenager and later on, became donors of the odd tenner here and there and the occasional spare bed in France and Italy.
Another group of people that are critical – indeed at all times of your life – are friends. Friends are essential for becoming a normally functioning human being as their guidance and opinions are free of the familial bias and the symbiotic pride-loyalty associated with your family. Most humans typically spend up to the first twenty years of their lives trying to be the same, then realizing that society expects their childhood to end and for that person to climb into a suit or continue to learn, we somehow and usually quite quickly emerge from the chrysalis of our adolescence and suddenly realize we need to be unique. That’s where friends are most valuable as they are going through the exact same process, struggling through the same fears and setbacks.
On to the penultimate set of people who matter most to you – your significant other.
I met Deepika on a movie set in October 2004 in Bray (about 20 km south of Dublin). The scenes filmed that fateful day were for Neil Jordan’s peculiar little movie Breakfast On Pluto. Despite me being made up to look like a fat and ginger-wigged 1970s-era manual labourer in a London pub (for that particular movie scene you understand), I rallied a little dutch courage and hassled her into meeting with me a few times and the rest is history. We married in 2007 in New Delhi. She is a true force of nature – strikingly beautiful and astonishingly efficient, fun-loving and fascinated by life like I am. She also is highly skilled at dragging me out of my worst introspections and doing practically all the brain work when it comes to numbers, administrivia and our finances. She is a great listener and gives wonderful advice when I ask for it. And frequently when I don’t -but usually only because I need to hear it. Did I mention she was strikingly beautiful?
Finally I arrive at the last group we owe our “us-ness” too – our children. Our son Ishaan was born on June 2nd, 2011, five weeks early. He was healthy despite this and instantly we got a hint that he would be a very observant person – within a few minutes he was opening his eyes to peer about, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. He is two years old now and still stops to look up at a plane or helicopter (like his paternal grandfather!) and for those few moments, nothing else exists around him. His sense of wonder is infectious. Watching him learn by touch, smell, sound or sight is one hell of a beautiful thing. Every parent sees this at some stage – they see themselves briefly as children, trying to sort things out in their heads and learning exponentially. Ishaan has taught me something I had seem to have forgotten – to simply slow down and look at small, seemingly insignificant things with wonder. Wondering why a butterfly at rest on a leaf will flex its wings or why a dog barks or why water spreads out when spilled on the table. He teaches me to keep learning, keep questioning and never be satisfied that you know enough about life and the universe.
Now, in darker moments I sometimes feel that I have not really achieved a great deal in my life, then I realize that while some might even agree with me, others will say that I have a college education, a beautiful wife and a golden two-year old son – by many people’s standards those very things ARE the definition of success. When put in that perspective, I realise that indeed I am successful (with a very substantial dose of luck – if I really believed in such a concept).
The point of this post is that each and every single one of us alive occasionally should take a moment and be thankful for what you have – and who you are. Bertrand Chartres once said (his quote coming to my ears via an old Bulmer’s advert on TV – yes really) that we are “like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”. If so then, we all need to be thankful for the giants in our lives – our parents, siblings and our own wives/husbands and children, for they are the ones we owe our success and good character to.
Of course you could thank God, Bertie Ahern, the stars or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care, but just reflect on whom if it in your life has made yours all the better for their existence in your life:
- Parents – for giving you life, teaching the crucial basics of decency and generally rearing you
- Siblings – for being role models and for looking out for you when your parents couldn’t
- Friends for being there when no one else was or when no one else could/would understand
- Your husband or wife for accepting your – let’s call them…vicissitudes and being supportive in all ways
- Your offspring, for inspiring you to be the best person and parent you can be
I suppose I must be getting sentimental in my old age, but in fact I think it really is hearty soul food to dwell occasionally on who matters most to you in your life. Really think hard on what they have done for you, though they may never once have mentioned it, or grumbled when it was beyond their purview.
It might just bring a tear to your eye.