Published Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 9:19 AM
This is a simple and personal little story. There is not much entertainment in here.
Maybe I should not write it at all I think, even as I sit at the keyboard, because the trippings and trappings of one little man's little life are not the stuff from which columns are normally made.
But this yarn is crying out to be told for some reason, and I cannot resist. I ask for the forgiveness of the many readers whom it will not stimulate or entertain or interest in any way. And I can understand that readily.
But there is also a small corner of my zany self that hopes there are even four or five souls out there who will read this with interest from top to bottom and afterwards be moved to do what I did over the last ten days. If they do I guarantee they will feel so much happier and fulfilled and serene afterwards.
Ten days ago I had one enemy in Ireland and two other men strongly entrenched in the camp of what we here in Ireland call Bad Friends. The latter pair were former close friends with whom I had disputes of one kind or another.
The enemy was a decent Roscommon citizen whom I mortally offended more than 20 years ago. In this case, now with the benefit of hindsight, I was clearly in the wrong from day one.
In the other disputes you could argue matters one way or the other. They were fifty-fifty issues developing from hot blood on a bad day in which both parties felt equally wronged and equally infuriated.
These things happen to us all. The consequences of all three matters were that there were three men on the island with whom I could not shake hands or socialize. To the best of my knowledge there was nobody else on that list.
Ten days ago that was my situation. Today that list does not exist at all.
I have buried all three hatchets in an operation that required only a small effort of will in the end. And I feel terrific.
We Irish are generally cursed with memories that are far too long and dark. It's a genetic thing attached to our hard history.
And Ulstermen like me, at the sharper edge of our history, have the longest and darkest memory banks of all. Up top we are often apparently lighthearted and warm, but there is an infinitely darker and unforgiving veneer just below that.
History knows that too. It is one of the factors still inhibiting the pace of the peace process for example, the inability to effectively divorce the dead past from the living present.
I know from my recent experience that I have the capacity to be a very Bad Friend and even an implacable enemy. And to look at me and listen to me you'd probably think I would not remember what happened last night never mind 20 years ago. That has not been the case.
Anyway, to cut to the chase it happened recently that an olive branch was offered by one of my Bad Friends.
I readily enough accepted because I hate being at odds with anybody at all. We arranged to meet and shake hands over a drink.
In the interim period I reflected on the other two men with whom I was not on speaking terms. I picked up the telephone and offered another olive twig to my other Bad Friend. It was accepted like a shot.
I drove up to Galway the following Saturday and he put out his hand first and we had our mutual hatchet buried inside 20 seconds! It only took that length of time to do.
Both of us confessed to being foolish to fall out in the first place. We have arranged to meet again for a night out as soon as we can, and I am hugely looking forward to that.
The sense of relief was powerful. It was great.
On a whim, two days later, I drove up to Roscommon and called unannounced at lunchtime to the workplace of my genuine enemy. That was just a bit harder, but I was fortified by the previous experience and by my fundamental need to apologize to the decent man for the genuine wrong I'd done to him 20 years earlier.
It arose, frankly, because of a story I'd written about him and his family back then. The story appeared in The Irish Press.
It was accurate and so carefully written there was no chance of us being sued for libel. It was watertight legally.
But what I knew, and the newsdesk in Dublin did not, was that it was the kind of story that would have that man and his family held up to ridicule for a long time in their own rural place.
For that reason it was a story that need not have been written and should not have been written. But I wrote it anyway. I would not do so today.
He was sitting at a cafe table near his workplace when I walked in. His face darkened and he went to stand up as I approached the table.
I was shocked at how much he had aged. I stood beside him and stuck out my hand and said I had traveled up specially to apologize for what I had done to him.
He did not take my hand then, but he did not strike me either. I sat down across the table from him and repeated my deep regret for what I had done.
I said I could understand his hurt and anger, and added that even if he wanted to take a swipe at me there and then there would be no comeback.
He relaxed at that and even grinned slightly. He is a manual worker three times my size, and one blow would knock me into the middle of next week. He said he was tempted but he did not want to appear in the paper again on a murder charge!
It was a bad thing I did to him, he said, but there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. After that it was quite emotional between us.
He got rid of some of his hurt and I got rid of my apologies. At the end he stuck out his hand and we shook it all away.
“You look a lot older now than you did back then,” he said. “Be careful on the drive back to Clare.”
We made no arrangement to meet again, but we will surely shake hands if we do.
Coming home I felt totally at peace. It is not pleasant to live so long with the reality of having wronged a fellow man. It feels very good to be forgiven.
After that it was a cakewalk to bury the last hatchet. We met for an afternoon coffee in a hotel bar and one handshake did the trick.
We had been very close friends before the break, and it all came back inside a few minutes conversation. He'd been the one to offer the olive branch, and I thanked him for that warmly and told of my experiences with the other two.
It was a lovely chat and we hugged before we parted, and we will surely meet again.
That's the small story. For the four or five of you who are still here can I strongly recommend to you the benefits of burying any hatchets you have in your closet.
It is as simple and easy as I've described above, and the feeling of peace that comes afterwards is so heartwarming as to be almost beyond words.
Hatchets are dangerous yokes to be carrying around for years. You are more likely to do yourself an injury than to harm anybody else.
Take my word for it.