Our love unfolds
19 OUR LOVE UNFOLDS
His stories and his example had taught me two important things:. Follow your heart above all else and when it gets tough stick with it.
About two months later Shaun knelt together with Magda on the altar of the small church in the village where Magda’s parents had spent their youth. As most of Magda’s relations live within walking distance it was the obvious choice for the reception.
The registry office was just across from the church and the adjacent fireman’s hall was the only option for receptions at the time. Shaun hadn’t even considered the huge responsibility which his proposal had placed on Magda’s parents. This was a feat not to be underestimated considering that nearly everything was rationed at the time.
Bright sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows as the guests took their places in the church. Shaun struggled to stop shivering as the chill of the cold marble steps penetrated his body. Magda looked across at him and smiled.
“Help me deserve her,” he prayed.
“She is the best thing that has happened in my life.”
He adjusted his bowtie and straightened his shoulders.
“How did I pull it off and how am I going to keep it up? Please let me find within me everything that she expects me to be. I couldn’t take it to wake up next to her each morning to see the disappointment in her eyes.”
A bell rang and Magda’s uncle walked from the sacristy and took his place on the altar.
The prayers and readings were beyond Shaun’s basic Polish, but finally their hands were placed side by side and the rings were placed on their fingers as they repeated the promises to one another. Shaun struggled through the difficult words, nonetheless knowing he was promising to be there for her until the end.
Magda looked even more beautiful than he had ever seen her. Her long white dress seemed to possess a magical glow in the autumn sunlight and her eyes were more alive than ever. She took his hand in hers and led him outside the church.
“Everyone will give us flowers and congratulate us,” she explained. They stood in the churchyard and a queue formed.
Shaun recognised most of the faces from the day they had spent inviting the country relatives. A group of Magda’s friends from university were the last Poles to join the queue, leaving Uncle Eoghan and your Aunty Patty, the only Irish guests, standing alone and looking a little lost.
“Give them some flowers and tell them to join the others,” Magda called over to her younger sister.
The long line of guests gradually shortened, leaving Aunty Grazina and Aunty Ula struggling not to drop any of the many bouquets.
“I haven’t let her down,” Shaun thought.
“I’ve kissed her relatives and thanked them all for coming.”
The Irish guests came last.
“It means a lot to me to have you here,” Shaun whispered.
“Somebody had to represent the family with Dad so poorly,” Uncle Eoghan answered.
“We welcome you into our family,” Babcia greeted, handing Shaun bread and salt at the door to the reception rooms.
He recognised the affection in her eyes and his expression told her how happy he was to be joining a very special family. He put his arms around her and kissed her on the cheeks and knew at that moment that she would never disappoint him or ever let him down.
Dziadek clasped his hand between two strong rough hands and showed him what a hearty manly handshake felt like.
“Thank you Dziadek,” he told him.
“Thank you for trusting me with your daughter’s future.”
“I know you will make her happy,” he answered with absolute conviction in his voice.
“We have a few customs of our own,” Shaun smiled as he lifted a surprised Magda in his arms and attempted to carry her up a flight of stairs and into the hall.
“Are you sure you can manage it?” she joked, at the same time not hiding her concern that he was in danger of letting himself down in front of the whole wedding party.
“Just hold on for dear life,” he told her, “and don’t let go.”
What the kingdom of the father resembles is a merchant who owned some merchandise, and then learned about the existence of a certain pearl. That merchant was shrewd, sold the merchandise, and bought the single pearl. You, too, seek the ceaseless and enduring treasure.
I would happily go back and relive that very special day and indeed the whole of our first year together as man and wife in Berlin, but life drags us along whether we want to go or not. Nonetheless, that wonderful time convinced me of the need to search for something pure in yourself and to never stop seeking the same in your partner.
Shaun was only a little older than our children are now when he met Magda, but even thirty years later I can feel the touch of her hand on my arm as we sheltered under an umbrella that day in Wittenberg. The time spent with her in Berlin and Cracow have left so many beautiful pictures and sensations in my head.
Shaun wanted with all his heart to be everything and more than he saw in Magda’s eyes. She did indeed bring out a great deal which had remained hidden up until then, but the many little human flaws and the disappointments on both sides made them doubt at times the greatness which still lay to be discovered in both of them and in the children who were to bless their union.
As is true of all relationships, life exposes us to forces which make it impossible to keep up the facade of the person we would like to be, but haven’t yet become. We have to lower the bar not only in what we demand from our partner, but also in what we can humanly expect from ourselves.
Within a month of our wedding I was confronted by a very angry Magda who felt betrayed by the man she had trusted with her life: Magda had stayed in Cracow after the wedding to sort things out and Shaun had returned to Berlin alone. On the day of her arrival, he was woken in their Marzahn apartment by an incessant banging on the door. A quick look at the clock on the bedside table told him it was past six and Magda’s train had been due at five.
Shaun jumped up and opened the door still standing half asleep in his underpants. Magda stood in a lather of sweat, having dragged two heavy suitcases all the way on her own.
“Where were you?” she spat out, her face contorted in anger, “I felt such a fool. I spent the journey telling the two guys who shared my compartment what a lovely caring husband you were. They were looking forward to meeting you when the train arrived at Lichtenberg. I can still see the looks on their faces as they left me standing weighed down with heavy luggage and no husband.”
That being said, the first year in Berlin was really a very special time for them both. The real problems only surfaced when they left Berlin by virtue of the fact that Shaun had a very light workload at the university and they used their free time to enjoy the city and entertain a constant stream of visitors.
However, the return to Ireland brought many stresses with it. Suddenly, Magda had to meet the challenge of a very demanding new work situation. Together with this, the search for a home, which they could afford, was fraught with difficulty. Ultimately, all these problems were solved, but not without a great deal of worry. Shaun found things easier than Magda and often found it difficult to appreciate her concerns.
After all, he was returning to a job he knew well and the idea of getting a mortgage, which would take the rest of their lives to repay, was not an unusual concept for him. However, it was Magda’s impatience with his absolute lack of experience or confidence in tackling all the urgent jobs in their new home which caused most friction.
“If only Marek were here, he would know how to do it,” came like a slap across the face.
The tin of paint splashed the neighbour’s wall; the wood dye, which hadn’t been stirred enough, left the dining room floor increasingly darker the nearer one came to the centre of the room; the wallpaper had bubbles and the kitchen chairs kept falling apart.
“Why didn’t you marry a Pole if they’re all so bloody fantastic,” Shaun heard himself saying.
“I left everything and everyone to follow you,” she replied storming out of the room.
Her crying penetrated the living room ceiling after the bedroom door had slammed behind her.
Shaun thirsted for that look of absolute trust which he had once found in Magda’s eyes. Several more years were to pass before he discovered it again in the uncritical looks of three perfect children.
“Daddy, I love you,” you said in those cute voices.
“It isn’t even possible,” you added leaving out the –“to love you more.”
Shaun held your tiny bodies in his arms and your sloppy wet kisses were the proof yet again that his heart had depths of which he hadn’t even dreamed.
The perfect dad you believed in was to fade, but only ever so slowly and the absolute trust I basked in for so long filled my middle years with so much joy that I know my life has been filled with so many precious moments. Despite my many human failings, my heart has been forced open again and again.
As you grew up, Shaun feared that you wouldn’t continue to love the simple person he was. He was intent on making more of himself so that you would be proud of him when you compared him with other dads. Unfortunately, this robbed him of so many of those moments that he could have shared with you.
Meanwhile, Magda having worked part-time for a while, got a full time lecturing position which put a great deal more pressure on her and in turn on us. Financially everything was going very well. The house was soon paid for and the old carpets and cheap furniture made way for the better, more expensive replacements. The old car was traded in and the salesman congratulated them on buying their first new car. The summer house in Spain followed and the stress of dealing with unscrupulous builders from the distance cheated them of the great pleasure which they had been sure a summer house would bring.
Like so many others, Shaun and Magda interpreted the envy of others as proof of their success. Magda’s responsibilities as a lecturer gave her the sense of achievement she needed, while Shaun became increasingly dissatisfied with the atmosphere at the school he worked in, even if he enjoyed the teaching itself.
Finally, he was ready to try anything to change, but the opportunities were extremely limited. His evenings were initially filled with university studies and computer courses aimed at adding a few more lines to his curriculum vitae. That having been achieved, his evenings were spent earning more brownie points, dragging himself from tutoring German at UCD to giving evening computer courses to teachers. He published articles in the teachers’ journal and gave workshops on communicative language learning in Trinity. However, while his life was marked with so many little successes, there was an emptiness which his hectic routine couldn’t fill.
Shaun’s forthcoming fortieth birthday signalled his last chance to uproot and start over again. He embarked optimistically on the continuous round of interviews, but his failure to get a promotion undermined his confidence and left him feeling emptier than ever.
You were too young to remember a great deal about this time, but your dad couldn’t see past the next great hole which he was determined to dig himself into. He failed to see the signs, but he was exhausted and depressed and getting further and further away from the peace his heart was yearning for.
The unexpected opportunity to move to Munich was possibly so earth-shattering that you can still remember the turmoil it brought in its wake.
“What sort of a principal do you work for?” The department official asked when Shaun rang to accept the appointment.
“What do you mean?” he asked confused.
“I’ve been working here for a while, but until yesterday I have never experienced a principal asking bluntly how he could block an appointment.”
“I wish you the very best,” the principal congratulated, shaking Shaun’s hand heartily the following day.
“I’m sure you do,” Shaun answered looking at him straight in the eye, unable to detect the slightest hint of a bad conscience.
“Thank you,” Shaun thought to himself, “you have made my decision so much easier.”
A new start was good for us as a family even if the first year in Munich was very stressful. We were able to look at our lives again from a different perspective and see what had been missing. The new life broadened our horizons and brought us several new and valued friends, but most of all it brought us together again as a family.
We tried our best to eliminate much of the unnecessary stress which we had allowed to build up in our lives. This gave us a great deal more time to spend with you and our friends. I like to think that the results of that process have given us so many happy memories of this relatively peaceful stage in our lives.
It is easier to live in a country where people feel they have to make up for the past instead of living up to it. The years in Germany taught us a great deal about setting high personal standards. One had no right to criticise others if we lacked honesty and compassion ourselves. We were impressed by the high standards we saw in people’s lives and work and were overwhelmed by the general honesty and almost absence of both petty and serious crime. Munich was a paradise to bring up a family in and the constant fear of break-ins and setting alarms became a bad memory from another life.
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and new situations come to challenge us. The forced return to Ireland, after so many years, put everything we had built together as a family severely to the test. I returned alone, with a heavy heart, to the country I had been so anxious to leave ten years previously.
When I came home to you at Christmas I was broken. I had tried my best, but hings had been even worse than I had imagined. At school the huge influx of immigrants had made the glaring deficiencies of the system even more apparent. The surface neighbourliness left me cold. There were of course exceptions to this, like the invitation to dinner from a Ugandan family whom I had talked with briefly after church.
It was especially difficult to return to the same school I had left so many years before. Little had changed about the neglected appearance of the building itself, and those I had relied upon for a friendly word had long since moved on. The decision to buy a bicycle instead of a car only added to my isolation. The weather deteriorated from mid-September onwards. I arrived each morning cold and depressed and returned home each evening demoralised to face an empty house.
Strangely, while I could have survived without my new work colleagues, I found it incredibly difficult to give up on my last class. They were a huge challenge for me at a very difficult crossroads, but they took me to their hearts in a way I wouldn’t have felt possible. They gave me the courage to abandon the official curriculum and introduce them to the hidden powers within themselves which they had never been encouraged to look for.
As far as teaching Irish was concerned, I would sooner have abandoned it completely, but at least I determined to replace the boring texts with games and computers as well as a wealth of easily attainable oral targets.
When I compared my first class at twenty with my last class in my fifties there was one essential change in my approach: When Shaun walked into the classroom on that first day, he was sure that teaching was all about filling empty vessels and was surprised when the class struggled against him. However, by the time I returned from Germany I knew that there was already something wonderful in each child and I was determined to convince them how gifted and special they were.
It was a great challenge to remove the many doubts which had already taken root and to persuade them of their strengths. So many complexes had developed by that stage that they found failure less challenging than success. The email I received from them a few months after my return confirmed, in a very special way, that my efforts had not been in vain:
Dear Mr. Mosely,
The whole class is gutted that you’re not here. Each person wrote something on a piece of paper and gave them all to me and told me to e-mail them to you:
Hannah- Please come back, we miss you so much.
Joseph-We all miss you, we want you back.
Matthew- Don’t leave us.
Mick-How many months till you are back?
Hemkesh - Hey,hey,hey There goes my favourite teacher.
And here’s our very special rap for you!
Everybody’s on a hype.
Daniel is searching for you on Skype.
We’ve your jacket.
It’s hanging on the racket.
We also found your shoes.
We learned so much every day.
We hope your coming back this WAY!
Nonetheless, Ireland left me empty. I was in such a dark place when I returned that I had to uncover the real cause of my extreme reaction.
The Ireland in my head had come to represent everything that had stopped me from being the person I was intended to be. It started with the mother who had denied me recognition no matter how hard I tried. So many years were wasted proving to others that I was good enough, because the thought was stuck in my head that I would never measure up.
O’Bradaigh was there as well with his hateful Gaelic, Catholic God. The Ireland he represented had spawned the worst that
Irish nationalism could have degenerated into.
I had ignored my doubts and fitted in with it all. That had been possible before, but this time around had been different, something pure inside me refused to cooperate. It blocked my regression into the same warped reality I had once paid lip-service to.
An old patch is not sewn onto a new garment, since it would create a tear.
Shaun O Maslaigh was only a facade. He was the mask Shaun Mosely hid behind. He lacked the courage and the self-confidence to become the person his heart wanted him to be. Magda and those he loved had given him a glimpse of his destiny and the return to Ireland had forced him to finally make a choice.
Today after a year of therapy and the effort I have put into this manuscript I finally feel free of it all Perhaps for the first time in my life I feel fully myself. The teacher they wanted me to be has died, but they haven’t broken my spirit.
As for you, be on guard against the world. Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can’t find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come. Be as sly as snakes and as simple as doves.
Magda had recognised the flashing lights of the police car before she could bring herself to answer the door. The police officer stood with a book in his hand. The cover was still wet and mud-stained. Magda took it into her hand and recognised it immediately. A page had been folded back to mark an important entry. Magda could hear Shaun’s voice as she read it:
“Be sure the safest rule is that we should not dare to live in any scene in which we dare not die. But, once realise what the true object is in life — that it is not pleasure, not knowledge, not even fame itself, but that it is the development of character, the rising to a higher, nobler, purer standard, the building-up of the perfect Man — and then, so long as we feel that this is going on, and will go on for evermore, death has for us no terror; it is not a shadow, but a light; not an end, but a beginning!”