A half way through book review of Gabriel Byrne’s Walking with Ghosts book
(Reading Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne, at Mizies, May 20th, 2021)
Isn’t it strange, how reading other people’s memories you will find small passages of your own memories accurately described? It’s an illuminating surprise to find that others have lived the almost same experiences as you did but the exact same feelings at specific times in their lives, no matter where they lived. Discovering yourself through the eyes of another is weird but not exceptional. It is just proof that despite our diversity of backgrounds, we are very much the same, all strong and all so weak in the face of life.
It feels unusual and surprising that despite growing up in two very different corners of Europe humans had so many common happenings. It is unbelievable to compare the late seventies and the eighties of my childhood with the probably sixties of the author’s age and to discover how the soccer players (we European like to name them football players or simply footballers) were the ultimate heroes, a tangible target for talented kids no matter the social class. Ireland, the author’s almost mythical cradle and Romania, definitely my mythical one, were so different places for the politicians to have created absurd borders. Borders that were easily penetrable though. Discovering how in our happiest or saddest days as children, we played cowboys and Indians is a revelation for how Hollywood penetrated frontiers, its “dangers” not being noticed by the tyrants of those times.
It is exceptional to discover how abandoning childhood for education impacts children’s emotions. Reading the scene of Gabriel’s leaving Ireland to pursue clerical education in England, therefore aiming to spread the wings for a brilliant future may bring some tears in the reader’s eyes, should one have experienced the same feelings or not. At different scales we all lived that at one time. We left our nests, as the baby swallows do, at the beginning, shily spreading our wings, falling down just to learn how to fly, watched the world from above for a few moments, discovering its unlimited wonders, targeting new horizons but returning fearfully back when the first bird of prey starred at us from a distance. The warmth and the safety of our nests… rich or poor, they were our comforts as kids, the strongest forts for those who fancied the cowboy and Indians, guarded by the most powerful defenders I ever knew in real or fictional life, our Mothers and our Fathers. As a boy I always saw my Father as the biggest and strongest man on the face of earth, capable of bringing a mountain down to pieces only by a strike if needed but he only was a human, equally weak as strong he was. But it was Mother that had the invisible strength, doubled by limitless endurance that kept the nest and its dwellers together. Finally the dreams conquer the fears and the final flight will happen. While flying away, excited for the wonders of the world and the glories of the future years, I never knew, in my profound sorrow, that those invincible guardians were actually weeping. I don’t know if their tears were for them remaining alone or for us flying alone toward the sunset.
But let’s return to the little swallows. Year by year they migrate long distances, looking for better living. Spring by spring, they return to the same nest, finding directions by unknown means and therefore maintaining the bonds between what they were and what they will be.