I have noted in the past that as soon as Americans hear my accent, the one question they always ask is ‘What brings you to New York City?’ I never know how to answer that question and always shrug my shoulders or say something stupid like ‘the food’ or ‘the weather.’ It took me a while but the truth is I now know exactly what brought me to New York City. I’ll still shrug my shoulders if you ask me though.
The old adage ‘life is too short’ has been bandied around for generations now but it is only in the last six or seven months that it has come to make any sense to me. It first hit like a subway train when I heard a man at a local bar I all too frequently attend stating that the people of Ireland were like ‘birds with broken wings’. He went on to explain this pseudo-poetic statement by claiming that the Irish youth were restricted and bound by the economy and had nothing to do but wait it out. It was only the next morning that I thought about how utterly nonsensical this assertion was and began to cringe for the young man. That morning, that horrifically hung-over morning, a few memories began to come crashing back to me.
The first was of a girl I once knew from the west of Ireland. She was a remarkably beautiful and talented girl who did not let anything get in her way. She lived through the same recession as us and her wings were not only broken, but permanently clipped in the form of Cystic Fibrosis.
Despite this and with a smile across her face, she excelled at school and at college, became a writer and worked in a place she adored. She travelled to places she wanted to see, surrounded herself with an army of friends and garnered a boyfriend who loved her unconditionally. She lived, she laughed, she loved. And she died early... like she always knew she would. She was 23 to be exact. Her huge funeral and the countless stories her friends and family told about her painted a picture of a girl who did not let her situation define her. Realising her wings were clipped, she evolved to enjoy life on the ground and in doing so achieved more in 23 years than many others have in 70.
My second memory went even further back to my underage football days. I was 16 and a budding corner forward on my local team. My manager at the time, realizing how diminutive and physically weak our full forward line was, decided to utilize our pace and told me and the other corner forward to make countless diagonal runs throughout the game to wear out our opponents and put ourselves in the danger zone. After a relatively unsuccessful first half of running tirelessly, my teammate and I complained that we barely seen the ball and questioned his tactics. Now, this was the sort of manager who was terrifying when he raised his voice but was even scarier when he looked you dead in the eye and spoke quieter than normal. He did the latter on this day as he stared us down and called us lazy. He stated that he knew that these runs may yield no results the first 5 or 10 times. ‘Indeed’, he said, ‘you may need to make this run 15 times but if you get a goal out of it, wouldn’t the other 14 runs have been worth it’?
Being inherently lazy and impossibly petulant at the time, I ignored this advice and so was surprised that I remembered it so vividly 7 years later. It began to make sense to me and I instantly compared it to the self involved, illogical comment from the drunken man the night before. The notion that we were ‘birds with broken wings restricted by our economy’ seemed absurd to me now.
Before you begin to think that I am being slanderous and malicious towards this man, I should drop the bomb that the statement came from me. I’m ashamed to admit that this was my train of thought for a while. The world was against us. Wrong place, wrong time. We all have to work in shitholes to get a pittance of a wage.
I now realise that this is not true. Life is too short to ‘wait it out’. Even if we are birds with broken wings, broken bones heal and come back stronger. Remembering the girl from the west and my old manager’s advice, I now realise that life is there to be lived no matter what the situation. If we can’t fly, we learn how to run and even if it takes 15 runs, we keep going until we get what we want. This is what I am doing in New York City.
I am finally making the first run.
USS Michael Murphy, named after Irish American Navy SEAL hero, heading toward Korea