Hope for a Great Sea Change
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
—Seamus Heaney, “The Cure at Troy”
With a name like mine, it’s easy to guess I’m Irish. My forebears were among the millions who struggled to escape Ireland’s disastrous Potato Famine (1845-1852). With his six siblings, my great-grandfather Patrick boarded one of the infamous “coffin ships” out of Liverpool. When the ship dropped anchor in Canada’s St. Lawrence River, of the Killoran family, only Patrick survived. What could it have been like for that ten-year-old kid? First losing his family to typhus aboard ship, then being locked into quarantine upon arriving in what had been billed as the promised land? The boy must have been strong, for Patrick somehow traveled to northern Quebec, where he grew up to become what family lore describes as a hard-drinking, hard-loving miner.
In the 19th century, most Irish were poverty-ridden peasants, dependent on a diet of potatoes with maybe a wee bit of milk or butter if you were lucky enough to share a cow. When a fast-moving blight devastated their only crop, people had nowhere to turn. Famine took over a million men, women, and children while those who could have offered relief ignored or even rejoiced in their plight. In all, two million people became refugees, with only one in five surviving to reach the largely hostile New World. Calamity is like that: the bottom falls out, not once but again and again. Everything keeps changing, and you either take desperate action — or you die.
You hear it in Irish music: the lament for having been beaten down, and for dreams both lost and denied. It’s there too, the stubborn persistence for which my people are famous, the refusal to abandon the necessity of dreams.
With another St. Patrick’s Day having come and gone, I ponder the calamities and the strengths of my heritage. To do other than persist would be to dishonor those who have gone before. Too many things matter for me to give up. Life is too precious for me to say die. If desperate action is likely to be required, then I must gird myself with stories of strength. Although I can barely see the further shore, I must hold fast to the conviction that we will get there; that love will not only survive, but thrive. Others have done it. So can I.
God of stubborn persistence, be with me, for the days are dark, and I am often afraid. Help me feel surrounded by a cloud of witnesses lending support to my days and giving comfort in my nights. Inspire me to draw strength from all that has gone before, that I may have courage to engage the struggles yet to come. In the name of all that is Holy, this I pray. Amen.