My home was more than just a house. Bricks and mortar can define a house, but 'home' has a far greater resonance. As a family we dwelled together and as a family unit, we tried to protect our own. We guarded our own space and we tried to live and love together as we faced the common challenges and struggles that came with family life. At times, we welcomed our neighbours and sometimes we welcomed strangers. While our house was built to protect; our home was built to grow.
Of course, our home was never flanked by luscious rose gardens beyond its entrance, or a white picket fence decorating its perimeters, and at times, affection and nurturing were often rationed among a large family. At other times, material gain was beclouded by unemployment and while quantity was often the measure of a house, it was not the measure of our home.
I never really grasped this, until the day I stood alone in my childhood dwelling, amid cold empty spaces that had dissipated to a shadow of what was once a bustling intersection of family life. Suddenly the past came into focus. It was here in this silent place that the drama of childhood was once played out. Between these very walls, my childhood was now imaginary, like a dream that had no place in waking reality. Two bedraggled armchairs, where my parents once sat, lay frozen in time beside a dormant stove that was once the hearth of our little cottage. Cold, damp empty rooms and beds, occupied dark spaces that were no longer vibrating with the great gift of life. My house, once a home, had returned to being a house - or even a shell of a building. But it felt only like yesterday when I walked that road to my doorway, played in the neighbourhood with friends, slept in a warm bed, lived, loved and cried, and wondered aimlessly looking for more than I had. Nothing brought me face to face with the ghost of my childhood more than this silent, empty place and nothing reinforced the brevity of life more than this moment. Within the uncanny stillness of dank lifeless rooms, the cries and laughter of children no longer reverberated and the comfort, safety and affection of parents no longer resonated. Bright flames no longer flickered to dancing shadows on old walls and even the magic lights of Christmas that flanked our little sash and illuminated the figurines on the sill, no longer blinked. I looked for something in the emptiness. Where were the gentle hands of my father? Where were the loving arms of my mother? Where were the cries of excitement on those frosty Christmas mornings, when we scurried for gifts? How could the hands of time fall pitilessly upon this sanctity of such moments? How could it steal my childhood without warning, or swipe my parents without some semblance of mercy? Like a storybook in an unsuspecting gust, suddenly too many unread pages had unraveled, too many chapters had been tossed in the wind, and too many days had been spent innocent to the passage of time.
This is where my past came into sharp focus, laid bare in the stillness and silence of a little house. But it was here that I would also take comfort in the knowledge that although I could no longer dwell in the home; the home would always dwell in me. The quality of moments and memories were now the true measure of home. Quantity was finally redundant. Perhaps empty silent spaces would always be filled with the magic and mystery of childhood and the memory of home. Perhaps that uncertain, unsteady span between childhood and the here and now, would always be reinforced by the love of a mother and father, or the laughter of a brother or sister. And in the greater scheme of things, perhaps the great cycle of life would keep turning and vibrating in the stories of the past and in the illuminated spaces of the present. And if the power of experience and the gift of memory were never enough to conflate this great reality and these lingering hopes, the ever-present spirit of Christmas surely was!
In : The Origin of Songs
Tags: home childhood christmas music ireland kilkenny jp ryan
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