My sister was flying into Dublin airport from her home in Spain on Thursday night and my parents were driving up to collect her. I was to go out to the airport too and the four of us would drive down to Cork together for Easter.
I readied myself for home. I took off my One Direction bracelet and popped it in my pocket. I changed the wallpaper on my phone from a picture of Zayn taking off his shirt to a picture of Miss Piggy looking glamorous. I changed the lock screen picture on my phone from a picture of Liam from One Direction’s nipples to a picture of Miss Piggy looking executive.
I also did as any good son should and deleted the browser history on both my phone and my laptop before meeting my parents.
When all four of us were together at the airport, I insisted on taking a family reunion selfie and posted it on Facebook. My parents were delighted. It was their first selfie. Now they were just like Obama or the Pope.
My mother decided that my sister would do the driving back to Cork. We drove through the night, my sister and I in the front and my parents in the back, fast asleep. This is ageing. The parents are now the children.
Good Friday was this blog’s fourth birthday. It’s certainly been a strange year for Project Connor, what with going offline one and a half times. That said, this year has convinced me more and more that I need to continue writing. I never thought that my fate was to be an essayist when I was a child. I always wanted to be a novelist. And I’m still going to try to write a novel as soon as the PhD monkey is off my back, but I think I actually might be meant to be an essayist. Not quite as romantic as I imagined, but I’ll take it.
Friday also saw the release of a new One Direction video. If I’m completely honest with myself, I’m finding the current One Direction album quite “meh” and this is the third 1D song in a row that I’m not bowled over by. But it doesn’t matter. They still make every day of my life better. And Midnight Memories doesn’t cancel out the glory days of Live While We’re Young and Kiss You. And the way the jumper hangs on Liam’s chest in the current video makes up for a multitude of sins. I have tickets to see them on the 25th May. Is it too much to ask that there’ll be a handsome man in my life by then to take me to the concert? Imagine: me and a handsome man at a One Direction concert. That would be Peak Connor.
In the religious community I grew up in, it was standard to fast on Holy Saturday from all food. Thankfully, this is a fairly common sense fast and the elderly, children and the sick are encouraged to eat what they need. My parents have gone past the age of long fasts now, but when I was a teenager the whole family would abstain from food for the whole day. One memorable Easter, when I was fifteen, I was fasting like everyone else. Unfortunately, I forgot to drink too and I ended up making myself sick. A friend of mine commented that I was the first person she had seen literally turn green. I was very upset that my sickness meant I would miss the all-night Easter vigil mass, which used to be one of the highlights of my year when I was a child and teenager.
How that has changed. Now I dread the vigil mass. It is traditional in the community to christen all the children born in the previous year at the vigil mass at Easter, so I have had to be there for five out of the last six Easters to see my nephews and nieces christened. I don’t like the night, as it always serves as a reminder of how different my course in life has been from the rest of my family’s.
Easter Saturday was my sister’s birthday this year. We were both happy to flaunt the fast and I took her for a pizza in the restaurant that had been one of the coolest hangouts in Cork when we were teenagers. It doesn’t feel quite as cool any more, but they still do damn good pizzas. And it’s nice to not be measuring the menu against the money in your pocket as I would have done as a teenager.
While we were in town, I also wanted to buy a pair of jeans as I’ve been trying to eke one pair of jeans and one pair of shorts out to cover every hour of every day for the last three weeks and it hasn’t been working.
I went into the only shop I knew in Cork that sells my size and got a pair for €80, a fairly typical price for me. And then, as we walked along Patrick’s Street, I saw a new shop, with the soulcrushingly euphemistic name of “Mr Big Man”. The shop had been open for five days and the massive man behind the counter panted in joy to see a customer. “This shop is badly needed” he told us. “I’m a big man myself”, he continued, for fear I hadn’t noticed. Here I managed to get a cheap pair of jeans for €40. While I was trying them on in the changing room, my sister witnessed the owner of the shop telling an average-sized customer that it wasn’t the right kind of place for him and escorting him off the premises.
This purchase meant that I had to go back to the original shop and return the €80 jeans and get my money back. Fear overtook me. I considered keeping the jeans I couldn’t afford. I considered asking my sister to return them. I considered going home and asking my dad to return them. I considered making up a story about having lost all my money. I considered tears.
In the end, I went into the shop. They took the jeans and have me my money back. No questions asked. I spend so much of my life being afraid of the easiest things.
Holy Saturday night and Easter Sunday
As my nephew was being baptised at the all-night vigil mass, I couldn’t not go. I could, however, skip the first half and arrive during the 3:00 am break. This was good. Easter always brings out the angsty teenager in me, and never more so than in recent years. I came out to my parents after the last Easter Vigil I attended, the year before last. My parents and sister left the house at about 11:00 pm when the Mass was due to start and I was alone, half-doing my PhD and half-keeping an eye on Facebook.
One of my Facebook friends happened to post that he was going for a night-time swim. This, of course, led me to playing REM’s Night Swimming, a song I both love and hate. No song is as guaranteed to transport me to my teenage years as quickly as this one. Between going to the restaurant with my sister earlier, pondering on Easter and my family’s religion and early nineties whine-rock, I turned into a Giant Ball of Adolescent Angst. I decided that there was no way to fight this, and so, I granted myself an hour of FEELINGS. At midnight I ushered in Easter Sunday in the most angsty 90s teenage way possible. I watched an episode of My So-Called Life. And I squirmed at the awkward adolescence of it all. Two of the finest quotes from this particular episode were: “Jordan Catalano doesn’t, like, go to school dances. It’s policy.” And “Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!” It really was a great show.
After my Hour of Adolescent Angst, I felt more or less alright. I dusted myself off and I did two hours of PhD work until my sister came to collect me at 3:00 am. It was Vigil time.
Luckily, I had missed the first seven readings. However, I caught the last two. After the readings, there is always a pause for what we call “echoes”. This is a time when you can share with the community what the readings meant for you in your life. Echoes can be boring, they can be entertaining, they can be upsetting. They’re often confessional. The first time I ever heard someone say the word “masturbating” was when someone mentioned it in an echo as a sin they had committed when I was a child. Echoing is not compuslory, but as a holy teenager, I was an enthusiastic echoer. I still remember, to my shame, that when I was about 17, I echoed about really fancying another guy in the community. And naming him. In his presence and that of his parents and his sister. Of course, my own family weren’t there, as they were in separate communities at the time, and echoes were treated strictly confidentially, so no one was able to come back at me for my revelation of lust for an innocent straight boy who’d done nothing to deserve it. I’ve never not been fully capable of making a right eejit of myself.
Anyway, here I was sitting and listening to the echoes last Saturday night/Sunday morning. And I was judging everyone around me, critiquing every word that was said, rolling my eyes internally. Where the members of the community saw God acting in their lives, I saw luck, hard work, fate and chance. Where they saw scandal in the lives of their family and their neighbours, I saw excitement and opportunity. But after sitting there for a while, I stopped judging. Echoing is just blogging in another form. These people weren’t bad. Their agenda is just the same as my own. They’re looking for meaning, and for happiness. Which is no different from me.
Eventually, the time for my nephew’s baptism came. And it was lovely. And he’s adorable. And as my brother walked around the church at 4:30 in the morning, presenting the baby to all the members of the community, so they could make the sign of the cross on his head and give him a little hug and a kiss, I cried one tear. But only one.
I left the church and walked home at about 4:30 am. The rest of my family were still there until after 6:00.
The next day, after everyone had slept, or tried to, we all had dinner in my brother’s house. Sixteen of us sat down to roast lamb. It was crazy.
Every day, while I was in Cork, I kept my April resolutions. I got 30 minutes of exercise. I worked on my PhD. And I did my mindfulness meditation. I think the meditation is beginning to work. Dinner for 16 people, with loads of babies and holy talk didn’t freak me out. I managed to limit my Hour of Adolescent Angst to one hour. And I managed to “rise above” during the Vigil. Hmm. Maybe I’m turning into a hippy. I don’t know.
I stayed up late last night, writing a particularly FEELINGS-Y bit of PhD and went to bed at about 3:00 am on my last night in Cork. I didn’t sleep well. My childhood bedroom has thirty-something bookshelves. And most of these shelves were made by my Dad or my sister. About six inches above my sleeping head hangs a set of shelves that my Dad screwed to the wall sometime in the mid-90s. These shelves have been noticeably sagging recently. At about 5:00 am, I got quite a fright when the shelf finally gave way and about twenty books of crime fiction landed on me. Both the novels and I have made a full recovery.
I’m back in Dublin now. Happy Easter, everyone!