The contrast could not be greater! The bleakness of two nights ago has given way to a summer-like calm; the place where emptiness abounded now overflowing with hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Silence has surrendered to heart-pounding drums that seem to hit you right in the chest, bullet-like bangers explode by the minute. The restrictions of Ireland do not apply here.
It’s bonfire night, commemorating 1066 – the Battle of Hastings – and the the pre-bonfire parade passes beneath my first floor open window. Great view.
People march in period costumes carrying flaming torches to the beat of hundreds of drums, a noise that is both thrilling and frightening! All ages are there. An elderly woman with a walking stick has the resolute bearing of a general and a baby sleeps in her buggy, oblivious to it all. The power of sleep when it descends on an infant!
The air is full of fire and sulphur and good humour! The whole parade takes about 30 minutes to make its way through High Street, which I’m told is part of the route for all the big parades. The English don’t simply observe and remember – they dress up and participate in these historical anniversaries. Like the day during the summer when the whole population of the town dressed as pirates, some even arriving to Mass as pirates.
The bonfire was happening on the pebble beach. I saw the pallets piled up the previous day. High as a house it seemed to me! Being attracted to fire from early childhood I couldn’t resist the urge to go down and see. People are drawn to fire, fascinated! Thousands of people in this instance!
I find a place behind the barrier on the edge of the shore a good distance from the fire itself. Not close enough to feel the heat but still amazing to watch as the flaming torches are thrown at the wooden pile which is gradually set alight into a huge ball of flame.
Having watched it for a while I turned to go when I heard a loud whistling noise and turning back I saw the fireworks begin. This was unexpected and utterly thrilling beyond anything else that had happened this evening. And though I had seen fabulous fireworks in Dinsey Paris, this was up close and personal. They were exploding in beautiful colour right above me so that I had to hold my head back in looking up to see. I was like a child then, first smiling, then laughing and uttering wows with every breath.
The feeling when it was done was one of utter satisfaction. You could sense it in the crowds of those who wandered slowly homeward, the chattering delight of children reviewing, reliving what they had experienced. Thousands of others didn’t wander home at all, but gathered in front of overflowing pubs to extend their satisfaction there.
Back in home I savoured it all over a bar of chocolate and then flicked on the telly where I came face to face with Absolutely Fabulous, a programme I hadn’t seen for years. You should have heard me laughing out loud to myself! Fabulous indeed!
Next morning fire of a different order entered into our hearts, the fire of Divine Love in the Eucharist, not as externally dramatic but inwardly far more pervasive. Sunday morning is wonderful, a roller coaster in slow motion – the Mass itself and the interaction with the people afterwards.
Organised by Sacred Heart School, this week we celebrated harvest at the 10.00 family Mass and I had a lovely conversation with the children about Tanzania and food, our likes and dislikes, being thoughtful of those who don’t have the luxury of liking or not, being grateful for what we eat, even the food we prefer not to eat.
The offertory was a great procession of parents and children bringing food to the altar for those who are hungry in our town. What a sacred thing it is when a little child hands me a tin of beans or a banana. There is a tender generosity in it.
There were a lot of people! We’re doing a head count for the diocese but I prefer not to know numbers and in moments when I want to count and even boast about numbers, I’m reminded of the census of King David that displeased God so much. Greatness is not to be measured and our strength is not in numbers but in the Lord.
As if to emphasise the importance of the little, after the 11.30 Mass I was saying hello to a one year old boy who reached out to touch my beard, smiled withdrew his hand, then reached out again a rubbed my face. So tender so graceful filling me with such joy, the touch of a child’s hand, the touch of the hand of God.
As a calm sun set on the peaceful evening, I think of Ophelia and everyone at home, praying that they will be safe and well in the unfolding storm.