“How do you survive January in Leitrim?” the taxi man wondered.
“Dozing.” I replied; “I talk to the cat and look out at the rain.”
That was after a visit to RTÉ for The Marty Morrissey Show.
I drove to Dublin the night before and stayed in the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge. I went for a walk, bought a bottle of water and a sandwich, passed through crowds heading for a rugby match, and returned to the hotel room where I ate the sandwich, drank the water, and slept like a baby.
In the morning Francis Brennan was having breakfast in the dining area, so I bade him good day and said how much I admired his gift for communicating with people.
I was due in the studio for 10am, but the taxi never arrived. I think it went to a different hotel with the same name. Eventually I flagged down another taxi, arrived late and had no chance to relax before putting on headphones; Marty Morrissey behind the desk, Dermot Whelan beside me, and Jerry Fish in a corner of the studio serenading the nation.
It being January, the conversation on air was about mental health and mindfulness. That’s why I mentioned the cat.
I gripped the rod with terrible rage and murderous intent as I waited with little success for some pike to clench its jaws around my nasty little hooks
“My personal pathway to mindful living is my relationship with a cat,” I declared. “He sits on my lap and I doze and try to develop an attitude of gratefulness for being alive.”
I think gratefulness comes naturally as we age. The more I see people die, the more I feel relieved that I’m still walking around.
I was at a memorial service the previous day in Thurles. The deceased was a relation through marriage and the cathedral was full, with Christmas trees flanking the ornate tabernacle, and subtle lighting effects on every wall and statue. It felt like a real house of prayer, a temple of calm abiding.
“He had three wishes,” his son told me; “He wanted to reach 90, to see one more Christmas, and to die in his bed.”
In fact his 90th birthday was earlier in the year, and he died at home just after Christmas. He donated his body to science and passed away in a state of deep gratitude for the life he had been given.
All the mourners spoke about his ability to bake bread, because he grew up in a bakery. In his youth he would return home with his brother from some dance and go straight to the bakery, turn on the ovens, and work through the night and through the following day without rest.
And his mindfulness practice was fishing; finding quiet places along the river where he spent hours in solitude, waiting for the fish.
Personally, I never achieved any serenity in the company of fish. In Cavan as a boy I roamed along the banks with others hunting for pike, but it was stressful because everyone wanted to cycle home with fish dangling like trophies of war from the back of their saddles. Having no fish was a public disgrace which I dreaded, so I gripped the rod with terrible rage and murderous intent as I waited with little success for some pike to clench its jaws around my nasty little hooks.
Like a lover waiting by moonlight or a monk waiting for dawn, I awake in the realm of love, when I’m passing the time with a cat
Of course I didn’t share that story on the radio. I just went on about how central the cat is to my practice of mindfulness.
I’m completely present in the moment when a cat sits on my lap; all my worries about the future and remorse for the past dissolve. I find that sharing time with an animal is a marvellous method of achieving calm abiding. I am invited into an altered state of being, where I do nothing but wait in their presence and pay them attention. Like a lover waiting by moonlight or a monk waiting for dawn, I awake in the realm of love, when I’m passing the time with a cat.
After the radio show a taxi arrived to bring me back to the hotel but mysteriously it too went to the wrong address. I laughed out loud and exclaimed: “This is not my hotel.”
The driver also laughed and it looked like we might get on well for the rest of the journey. But then he asked me what I did in Leitrim to get through January and I mentioned the cat with enormous enthusiasm.
And that was the end of it. He eyed me in the mirror with merciless disdain and said: “I’m a dog person myself.”
The rest was silence.