Today was the day for collecting acorns. My daughter and I like to do these things together. It’s not a conspiratorial thing; for my part, I just enjoy hanging out with her. Hopefully she feels the same way. But in any case, the world decided that perhaps it wasn’t the day for acorns after all.
It was another busy enough week of work, both in the office and in the station. Running has slotted in between the gaps. Progress is steady enough, and I feel after the first month of the programme that perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I won’t make any gags about that either, as they’ve all been done. But the weekday runs were a mix of speed work and repeats, followed by an easier Saturday run with Mark, and then today’s tougher 14-miler.
Targets have been mostly met. I say mostly as, for example, today’s run was supposed to be 1.59, but it took 2.01:50. So, off the pace a little. I’m going to blame work here. We were called out early on Saturday morning for a bin truck on fire, which lasted a couple of hours. I managed to squeeze in the run with Mark, plus a hot chocolate, and get back over to the station for midday for a charity bucket collection for one of our firefighter colleagues, but instead, we were called down to the other end of our county to do a shift on a large factory fire that had been making the news the previous day.
It was a long day in the end, and we didn’t get back home ’til about 11.30pm, reeking of smoke. I don’t think we made any impression on the fire either, but that’s not surprising. It was a diorama of Danté’s Inferno with a large helping of Bosch, and no amount of water was going to quench it.
My plan to get up about 6.30 in the morning and run along the canal was kicked unceremoniously to touch. Instead, I opted for the park around 10am. I love the park, of course, but 14 miles in loops is not ideal. Added to that was the thought that we would get a call-out at any stage meant I was literally tied to the car in the car park – my escape pod. (Our nearest station was on the same long shift at the same fire today, so we were covering their area too). That short leash meant 4 mile circuits along what I would find to be the least attractive sections of the park; the neat paths and playing pitches, the daffodils in Springtime, and the blossoms on the cherry trees… yes, I appreciate even as I type this, it sounds churlish, but I just happen to love the woods and the river banks more. All these straight tarmac paths are not my idea of a fun place to run.
As we threw our token offering of water on to the sodden mass of rubbish in the factory fire, our conversation was drawn back to the unfolding tragedy in a tiny community in Donegal. On Friday afternoon, there had been a devastating explosion in an apartment connected to a petrol station, and it seemed each time we checked the news, the confirmed death toll was rising. By today, it has stopped at ten, and it is believed that they will not find any more people inside the collapsed wreckage.
As I ran around in circles this morning, I listened to a panel on one of Ireland’s main radio channels, and it was naturally the main story. There is a pattern to these tragedies, and the media do, of course, have an important part to play. They can, at times, overplay their hand, and will often be accused of voyeurism rather than simply telling the story. Grief can almost become a fetish. It’s something we all witnessed on this side of the world after the death of Princess Diana, and in a less disturbing fashion, after the passing of the Queen in the UK.
Once the details of any tragedy are resolved, the media will then start to reveal the human faces behind the event. Pictures will emerge. Stories of lives cut short. Local sports teams who have lost their talisman. The girl in the local shop who always had a kind word. The guy who just popped in for a sandwich, the heroic deeds of the passer-by who pulled survivors clear, then the tidal wave of human kindness in the shape of endless tea and sandwiches for all the workers on scene… the stories pour out onto the pages and the grief is immeasurable, but it’s kept at arm’s-length for most of us, because, simply put, it’s not happening to us. It’s happening to someone else. The media is often called a circus, not least when the story is so all-encompassing. Perhaps this is unfair. But regardless, the small community of Creeslough will eventually be left to its own devices, and the very many shattered lives will all have to come to terms with the enormous, crushing reality of so much life ripped away so suddenly.
I was taken with something Maureen Gaffney said on the radio. Maureen is an Irish clinical psychologist, broadcaster, writer and columnist, and tends to appear a lot on these panels. She’s the intellectual ‘Irish Mammy’ who is called upon in these terrible times to offer some sort of national balm to the suffering soul. She was asked if there would be healing, or some such question, and she responded that, yes, they would get over this. I am doing her a disservice, as that sounds rather blunt as I type it, but I couldn’t help saying aloud (to hopefully no-one listening), that no; some people would not get over this. Some people never get over a tragedy of this magnitude. ‘Learn to live with’, perhaps? Yes, perhaps. But it seemed to my mind a discordant note on which to end the discussion. It’s probably a good thing I am not invited onto these panels…
Tamsyn popped in after my run. The rain was teeming down. I guess we’re not going out so. Going out where, asked Saoirse? To collect acorns, I replied. Why? So we can plant lots of them, and grow tiny little oak trees. And then what? Well, just give them all away, I suppose.
What else could you do with hundreds of oak saplings?
And then shortly after, we received dreadful news that a friend in the greyhound community had died in tragic circumstances. I had heard this story yesterday as the news broke online, and the official Garda response was that a mother and her young child had been found in their home, and that they were not looking for anyone else in their enquiries, but were treating it as a ‘family tragedy’. This is easy code to decipher; you don’t need to work in the emergency services to know what it means. But I had no idea that it was a friend of ours. And so a full 24 hours after the explosion in far away Donegal, tragedy fell much closer to home.
There will be many tears and many more questions, most of which will go unanswered.
And so begins your own more personal journey of grief. It begins with your recollection of your last meeting, your last chat, your last joke together. Not that you knew it at the time. It’s hazy enough, as memories go, because we would meet out in the park with greyhounds, and the chat was usually something greyhound-related.
But the phone is of course a much better piece of tech for remembering, and lets me know to the minute when we last sent a message or a picture. A quick scan back through WhatsApp reduced me to tears, and I had to put the phone down.
It’s going to be a long week.