Houses

Sitting inside the tent in the morning, the flaps closed against dreary weather, I dream again of inner spaces and question their meaning.

I remember the loneliness of some houses I have lived in, and their inner disconnections. And I also remember the house of my childhood, "a Being of warmth I think; at heart a house of mercy."  And at the other extreme I remember an ultra-modern cocoon-house in which I once lived alone for a week.  It was in America....

Coming from a country that the ancient Romans named Hibernia, “the Land of Winter,” I was new to high temperatures Fahrenheit. I wished I could at least translate them into Celsius, but I could never remember the formula.

The house had an elaborate burglar-alarm system that made me nervous of opening even a kitchen cupboard. There was also air­-conditioning, and there were screens on every door and window to discourage insects from entering, and a bug-zapper to deal with them if they did. They should not come hither, and I should not go yonder to that place of suffering, for a great chasm divided us. The piped music was interrupted by an announcement that the tem­perature outside was 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

I knew the temperature, but I didn't know the heat. I knew about the outside, but I didn't know the outside. Knowledge had become information. I was a Peeping Tom, impotent but curious. The house satisfied perfectly the disturbing definition, "a machine for living in", and I began to understand what the American teenager shouted down to his mother when there was a power-cut: "Mom, my room has stopped!"

One afternoon I decided to escape temporarily from the cocoon - if only to prove that I was capable of independent existence. I walked for hours in the heat, strengthened by the need to prove a proposition. But I was conscious that I was somehow on the wrong scale: roads, distances, signposts, even buildings were all de­signed for motorists, not for pedestrians. I proceeded like a small insect for another hour and then crawled back to my cocoon.

In the middle of the night I awoke to the maddening sound of a mosquito.  She was a plucky one who made her way through all those technological defences.  She died in the early hours of the morning of August 18, by Time magazine.   

From Take Nothing for the Journey, Donagh O’Shea
Dominican Publications, Dublin 1990, 2nd edition 2013

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.