Sunday, 2 December 2018

Silent spontaneous shop ballet shows why I love living here!

Sometimes it pays to be foreign. If you were born here you might forget why you love Galway and the West of Ireland.

Living as a blow-in for 26 years, there still come moments when I’m reminded what it is about this place that makes me feel so comfortable and at home.

You’d want your house to be a comfortable home, so why wouldn’t you expect the same of the area you live in?

To feel comfortable outside I need to feel welcome. I need to feel that there’s very little chance of being involved in a fight or being called a Yid.

If it sounds like I’m setting my bar of expectation low, that’s because I’m cut 50/50 between cynic and idealist. I treasure my dreams while staying aware of how likely they are to come to fruition.

Dreams are so important. With hundreds of patients on trolleys, obscene sexism in rape trials and the impending crushing of Ireland’s economy by a No Deal Brexit, it can be difficult to look away from what’s wrong and appreciate the good on offer here in the West of Ireland.

That’s when the universe delivers a magical moment, reigniting our inner fires, which in Connacht are fuelled by compassion and humanity.

After a suitable period of isolation, I headed into the city to see my mates. When I haven't spoken to anyone face to face for three days I temporarily lose quite a few social skills.

Stopping for bits and pieces at a city neighbourhood shop, I realised I was struggling to acclimatise to this busy noisy real world, crammed with people and bright lights.

However pathetic it sounds, I was actually finding the narrow aisles difficult to navigate.



Excuse me. Sorry.

Clutching a sandwich, a newspaper and a tub of coleslaw I joined the checkout queue, eager to get out of this crowded claustrophobic little place.

Then, as my eyes wandered to pass the time, I saw - oh Hell on Earth and the planets beyond! - another queue over there, back behind the other aisle, with just as many people in it, running at right angles to my queue.

My inner child cried No!!!!! as it stamped an impatient foot. Why did it all have to be so difficult and oh pooh and grizzle, wail, and finally, losing patience with myself, shut up Adley, this is a minuscule First World problem!

Get over yourself.

Meanwhile everybody else had been assessing the situation, looking over at each other in opposing queues, mulling over the situation.

Clearly this wasn't going to work. The status quo was heading towards conflict of one kind or another. Immobile, with my brain stuck firmly up my jacksy, my imagination played around with how this situation might be resolved in different cultures around the world.

In my native England it could be dealt with by anything from reasoned debate to aggression, sarcasm and shouting.

In parts of the Middle East the problem could never happen, as the very notion of a queue is alien.

Why stand in line when a scrum will do? I remember watching the Python-esque spectacle of European backpackers being beaten back from boarding a bus by Arab grannies in Abaya robes, wielding their wooden walking canes from the bus steps with gleeful abandon.

Such displays of exuberant emotion are not the way here in the West of Ireland.

Instead, right there in front of me, there played out a moment of pure magic, in the shape of a beautiful silent ballet.

Danced by peaceful people looking for minimal stress, this ballet was designed, directed and performed without a word being spoken.

I saw no finger raised to point an order, no non-verbal expressions of intent or instructional exchange taking place.

Yet spontaneously, all the people in the queue on the left suddenly and smoothly floated towards our queue.

Also silently, gently and welcoming, we all stepped aside, opening like an 18th century lady’s fan, creating room to allow our parallel queuers to slot into their rightful new places in the order of things.

Forgive me if it seems mundane, but at the time I found this common choreography profoundly comforting. It was bought about because here, albeit for tragic historical reasons, your default position is a passive smile.

On another day things might have turned nasty. Life is not perfect here, far from it, but I love it because what happened in that shop could only happen here, in this place I choose to call home.

Here we say hello to strangers on the street. We call howya to hundreds we know not beyond the howya, and when there’s a problem with a queue, we resist the urge to bicker.

We don’t concern ourselves with being wholly accurate about who goes where, because we know we will all be served, and more importantly, we are all better people for not making a fuss or causing a fight.

Nobody said anything because everyone knew what had to be done.

There was need for neither winners nor losers: just compassionate people, whose culture is borne out of queueing for food to save lives.

Surviving that shameful past, the people of the West of Ireland have evolved a unique understanding of priority and perspective. 

In Connacht we enjoy a strong sense of social justice, eschewing the most damaging excesses of capitalism for a more benevolent way of being.

Life here can be tough, but I feel welcome and give thanks for the beauty of this part of the world. 

Another tiny yet significant magical moment might come my way on any given day.

©Charlie Adley
02.12. 2018.

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