1 MENTAL IN MUNICH
A gentle breeze rustles through the tall, slender trees as they cast their erect shadows over the small square in front of the Catholic church in Schatzenbrunn. On the afternoon of May 16th storm clouds are about to chase away the last joy from what began as a flawless blue sky. The Alps tower on the horizon as the train from Aying screeches past the red and white barrier. Magda restarts the engine, pressing on the clutch as the barrier lists slowly and drives her black BMW over the tracks taking a sharp left towards the woods on the other side of the tracks.
The cornfield and the farmhouse whiz past and disappear on the left as the car slows into a narrow lane which skirts the dense woodland. Having past three large detached houses with red slated roofs on the right, she turns into a spacious cobbled driveway and parks in front of a double garage.
She turns the key in the lock of the imposing front door and is immediately disappointed by the whiff of Domestos from the guest WC rather than the more pleasing smells which she expected from the kitchen. The house is silent and she notes the absence of the comforting sounds of plates and glassware meeting the surface of the marble table, as would have been normal on her return.
“Shaun,” she shouts up the winding stairway, but her voice comes back at her.
She continues into the living room somewhere between annoyance and concern. The room is neat and tidy, but Shaun’s arm chair is empty and the air is stale. Magda unlocks the glass door, which opens onto the terrace and the unwelcome silence is softened by intermittent birdcall coming from the wood on the far side of the lane.
The dining chairs have been reset in line since she left earlier that morning and the cushions on the sofas have been re-positioned, betraying Shaun’s mania for order in the narrow domestic world into which he had retreated since his return from Dublin over a year before.
Magda notices Shaun’s red plastic folder bulging with A4 pages filled with ordered paragraphs of crisp black print. It lies on the glass coffee table with a folded sheet of white paper carefully positioned on top. The hand-written note has been scribbled in blue ink and signed at the bottom.
“Dear Magda, Dear Andrzej, Ania and Darek,
This is my attempt at putting my life into words,” Magda reads. “They are my most private thoughts and I have a need to share them with the people who are closest to me.
Today, on my birthday, it is perhaps fitting to let that past go. A beautiful day calls me from outside and I want to take full advantage of it before my courage fails me or those dark thoughts fill my head again.
You know how dark and melancholy spirits have incapacitated me of late, but today is different. The bike tyres have been pumped, and I can imagine rays of light penetrating the forest covering, transforming the gloom with radiant light and a touch of magic. This is a birthday present to myself. My aging body resists but that silly stiffness in my arms and legs won’t hold me back. The clouds have lifted inside my head for now and I want to take advantage of the moment.
Today, I am free of all the black thoughts that have shackled me. Be patient with me when I jump between the Shaun I was and the old man I have become. There are times when I am more at home in the past than the present as I relive the moments intensely. At other times, the Shaun I once was is just an embarrassment.
My aim is to share my education as a human being with you. You are all in my heart. I have taught you and been taught by you. We are all uncompromising in our high expectations of one another and it is right that it should be so. We have built something great together and that is worth holding on to, for what do we have if we don’t have one another?” – Shaunee.
“Damn, why couldn’t he ever carry a mobile with him?” Magda moans aloud.
She thinks about peeling the potatoes for the evening meal, but decides on jam and toast and a strong black coffee with a half spoon of sugar instead.
The red folder sits accusingly across from her when she returns to the living room with the mug of coffee in her hand. She wants to resist, but curiosity gets the better of her and she picks up the folder as the first rumbles of thunder sound from over the forest which stretches all the way to Aying and beyond.:
“Dear Family,” the page begins.
“It’s time to stop worrying about me and start celebrating every special moment in our lives to the full,” it continues.
Magda sits down in Shaun’s place on the sofa in front of the closed laptop on the coffee table and imagines the many hours he spent typing and editing until he felt satisfied with his version of their story.............
The last few months have been easier. The pills have chased the darkest thoughts and there have even been some moments of elation when they have tipped the balance too far in the opposite direction. That disconcerting experience begs the question as to who I really am and it’s been a painful time reconstructing the shell of a person who doesn’t crumble as easily as the incomplete me did.
Dr. Hans discharged me recently, trying to quell the alarm on my face by telling me he would be there if I needed him. I believed him. He had taken me through a lot. As I walked down the corridor and waited for the lift, I was reminded of the first time we had met on my return from Dublin over a year ago. The look in his eyes told me how deep I had sunk.
“Why didn’t you come to me earlier?” he had asked.
“I have always just about managed to hang on,” I had answered truthfully.
However, by the end of December, alone in Dublin, I knew that this time it would be different. I couldn’t have taken another minute in that Dublin classroom and the Christmas break had spared me from a complete breakdown far from you all.
My experiences had been even worse than the nightmare I had fled from when you children were still toddlers. Then, after so many years in Germany I had been forced to return to the same rundown school. It was a daily hell trying to force Irish grammar on the children of Nigerian and Polish emigrants, not to mention the innate antipathy of Dublin schoolchildren. I had given up trying to sell a language that wasn’t theirs and wasn’t mine, but one is still forced to go through the actions.
Religion lessons were even more of a challenge. How do you market a God who even your best friends would despise you for if you really took him at his word? Moslems, Hindus and other non-believers chatted constantly while I fought a losing battle with the sceptical Catholic majority armed with a curriculum which presumed the devotion and blind faith of the 1950’s.
“I’ve just popped in to see how you’re getting on Mr. Mosely,” intruded Sr. Maria, as she popped her head through the door. “ I have the list of hymns for the prayer service on Friday evening and I thought you might appreciate this art book. It’s full of ideas for church posters.”
“Where have you left the Jesus who has something inspiring and life-changing to say?” I screamed silently, behind an all too willing smile.
I couldn’t remember being bothered about the enforced hypocrisy in the past, but the years abroad had changed my focus. My escape from the pseudo-piety of an unbending denominational system of education had freed me from the lies I had succumbed to.
Forced back to Ireland at the end of my career, that cold marble Jesus, hanging from a varnished cross was getting in the way again.
Nothing was more soul-destroying for me than the fake piety of twelve year olds in a hollow granite church on a gloomy Friday evening.
I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty.
Everything that surrounded me at school just dragged me down and filled me with loathing. Where was the Shaun who had thrown himself with enthusiasm into this work in the past? Had I really been that blind or had it been easier just to bury my head in the sand?
I was ashamed to admit it, even to myself, but that cold marble Jesus had never really touched me.
If anything, it was his courage in the face of hypocrisy that had spoken to me louder than anything else. His achievement had nothing to do with dying to open the gates of Heaven. What warped mind comes up with such a sick story? His passion for honesty put him on that cross because he opted to die as an honest man rather than living a lie. He had inspired people who had long given up and he was looking down on me from the cross on this cold Friday night with contempt in his eyes and no amount of soulless religious art or flat hym-singing was going to set me free.
The Jesus I had come to believe in didn’t need to prove his bloodline or divinity.. He was the unbaptized student facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square, knowing his sacrifice was crazy to the world, but true to an inner voice which defied analysis.
The loneliness and isolation of Dublin without you, the people I love, was so much worse than I had imagined it could be.
“Nice to meet you,” the neighbours greeted, shaking my hand during that first week.
“How did you manage to put up with those unfeeling, Germans for so long? We’re very busy at the moment, but we’ll have to have you over some time.”
“Thanks,” I said automatically, “I’ll look forward to it.”
I knew it was all meaningless. They were all just empty words, but common courtesy compelled us all to go through the motions.
“Your thoughts are deflected towards the negative pole,” my understanding German psychiatrist explained when we first met in the warmth of his thoughtfully designed surgery in Munich.
“Everything looks black at the moment,” he smiled with genuine optimism in his voice, “but you have important people in your life to live for Mr. Mosely. Take stock of what you have achieved in your whole life and balance it with that weak person you were reduced to within a few short months in Dublin. Don’t allow unfavourable circumstances erase the life you have built for yourself and your family over many successful years.
You finally have to take a long clear look at the Ireland you ran from when you opted for a new life in Germany. Do battle with the past or it will never loosen its hold on you. Write a little every day and face the monsters, one at a time.”
As you know, I took his words to heart. A day hasn’t passed without some reflection on the life-events which have moulded me and in turn our family. Our stubborn honesty as a family often puts us at odds with the world, but it marks us out. We stand for inclusive, universal, Christian values. We have no intention of turning the right cheek to anybody who would try to force us to be less than we know we can be.
If you do not fast from the world, you will not find
the paradise you seek in your heart.
There are many things my writing has brought me to appreciate, but most of all I have learned that running from problems rather than facing them head on isn’t the answer. I shielded you from my Irish monsters. Your experience was limited to the tasty Irish breakfasts, smuggled back in my luggage or the mince pies and trifle on Christmas Day. We wore the silly Irish hats on St. Patrick’s Day and you were sure you knew Ireland.
“Please Dad, can we go to Ireland this summer,” you pleaded.
I gave you the deaf ear. My trips were limited to duty calls, secretly dreading the day when my German contract would end. We were all more than happy with our new life in Germany, but I always had a banshee in my head, ready to throw that comb.
The youths of my generation were optimistic and I was no exception. I was still very young when I had promised myself that my father’s bad luck with his career wouldn’t touch me.
Opportunity and success was waiting for the brave. Twenty five years ago as I knelt beside a beautiful young girl in a tiny church in Poland, I was certain that the council estate which had determined my past would have no more power over my future. Some vague Catholic God would favour us, over everybody else and our unlikely love story would go on for all eternity.
I loved you Magda from the first moment. There was an emptiness which I had never succeeded in filling until my eyes fell upon you.. There was something about yoü which killed the cynic in me and had me ready to risk it all.. Everyone who knew me would have confidently predicted my future, but with you every moment was thrilled and I was totally addicted. The safe predictable existence I had settled for was turned on its head and I put my total trust in a dream which went against all the unsolicited advice, and there was plenty of it, which I was subjected to.
If you bring forth that which is within you, it will save you. If you do not find that within you, that lack will block your destiny.
“Trust me with the rest of your life,” I pleaded with conviction, determined to summon all the good that was in me.
Looking into your trusting eyes, I saw the able young man I had tricked you into believing in. His neat black beard conferred wisdom beyond his years and his fit body conveyed a vitality which made him invincible. Your uncle came from behind the altar in priest’s vestments, joined our hands and united our destinies forever. The world was at my feet and God would save me from myself.
“Could your Irish Catholic God be at the root of your problems?” my German psychiatrist had suggested within a few minutes of listening to my story.
“Don’t get me wrong Shaun, but psychiatry has turned me into a Christian atheist. Depressed Catholics can torture themselves endlessly, blaming their own sinful nature on their God’s vengeance. I don’t like to come between God and man, but if you find your God has abandoned you then its time to make up another.
“Believe me, I fully agree,” I answered,
“My problem is that they brainwashed me as a child and Ireland has put that terrible God back into my head..”
As I reflected over the months of therapy, I began to understand how long I had been burdened by a jealous, unforgiving, misogynistic, homophobic God. He was incapable of living up to our standards even if the bar wasn’t especially high,
Tthe kingdom is within you and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that it is you who are the sons of the living Father.
The years in Germany were about building a new shatter-proof God. I tried him out in your religion classes when the three of you had the misfortune to suffer me as your teacher.. I am humbled to realise how all of you could easily catalogue the many false turns I took along the way. My efforts to direct your search left you and your schoolmates with an easy target to punch holes in, but my efforts were honest if feeble.
I disclose my mysteries to those who are worthy of them. Remember those who know all, but are lacking in themselves, are utterly lacking.
Over the months of therapy, my attempts to come to terms with the past has reopened wounds, while allowing me to relive the many wonderful moments I have shared with people who have enriched me.
When you make a pair of eyes in place of one eye, only then will you be ready to appreciate paradise.