It is the nearness of things -- emotions, events, people, history -- that steer existence for most of us. Few, thank God, but far too many, suffer earthquakes as are the Japanese today, but the nearness of the tragedy brings empathy, and we, safe or nearly so, signal that humanity is healthy because of that. Our prayers, our help will walk the talk.
Some in their lives find the nearness of success, and that is perhaps enough. Or the nearness of help, which can be reasonable. Or the nearness of love, which offers no complications in its investment yet fuses memory with dream. OPr, this week, the nearness of being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, when so many of us wear a bit o’ the green.
I am blessedly Irish because of my mother’s side, nearly 100 percent. I grew up with the nearness of Irish ancestry since my mother, whose birthday was March 17, had the native wit, a bit of a temper, loved tea and always had a few stories to tell, including the one about “chasing the growler,” or as a young girl fetching a pail of beer from the tavern’s back door for her aunt, on occasion. It was the nearness of Irish ancestry since my mother did not talk at length about her heritage, mostly for reasons of sadness in a difficult childhood that saw her lose her mother at 7, awakening next to her to find her gone at age 32.
As a child, she encouraged my brother and me to wear green on the day, to watch the New York City parade and to tell us proudly of her relative Hugh Bonner, once Gotham’s fire commissioner. Yet we kids were no different from our friends -- all those of no Irish ancestry -- on St. Patrick’s Day. Our elementary schools made it a gay time, and in college there were serious discussions of the English occupation. So, for many, there was a “nearness” of the day to honor the Irish.
In my geography, 20 miles north of New York City, there is another “county” of both the Irish Republic and the North of Ireland in a hamlet called Pearl River, once of mostly German heritage and now heavily infused with the accent of the Emerald Isle.
It. too, had a large parade, the marchers of which include the same New York firefighters and police who step out on Fifth Avenue. Indeed, many live in Pearl River.
It is almost St. Patrick’s Day, when this writer wears green and feels more acutely the nearness of an Irish heritage. With a bit of color also left for my late mother at her grave atop Mt. Nebo, the day won’t be the other emotion that is near.