What I have realized in the last 24 hours is that In a world full of so much pain and people who cause it, there is an inherent goodness full of empathy in so many countless more. Before the smashing of metal yesterday on that picturesque road in the Irish countryside, I'm not sure I would have admitted this. I thought the opposite as I began my morning drive listening to news on the car radio out of Dallas and voices talking of hatred, racism, guns so many guns. But it was all like Dallas about to change.
Morning still around 11.30 am and the sun had come out finally. I wound in my car on narrow roads bordered by stone walls built from the craggy landscape around me of the Burren in County Clare. I was on my way to photograph a seaweed harvest off the pristine shoreline around Spanish Point. I had left friends behind in the soft drizzle of Connemara and I would catch up with more eventually amidst fiddles and flutes in the idyll surrounds of the village of Doolin. It hadn't crossed my mind as I set out on the journey that maybe I wouldn't arrive. Before yesterday there never seemed a reason to think this way.
I remember cyclists on the other side of the road and a car swerving around them, hitting brakes and realizing in an instant a terrible reality, hoping in milliseconds that this wasn't it. A bang and the airbag going off and thinking 'this has happened', blood escaping my nose dripping on my yellow shirt. Dazed, I looked ahead at frightened faces outside looking at me, a white dust billowing around me making it all the more unreal. A bonnet in my face, squashed like an accordion. Time was frozen and at the same time moving in slow motion. Thoughts that this was bad. Should I move? Can I move? Yes you can. It's time to move and deal with aftermath.
Yesterday was about people. Like a vortex it seemed my whole day I focused in on them. Peggy the french lady getting out of her car angry and frightened. Her young son. Her shock and sudden realization that I was worse than her and she needed to help. It was like watching a switch go on inside her. I was alone. Then I wasn't. I don't believe in angels but I believe once again in people.
The American family in the third car. Amelia and Mike and their two kids from Portland, Maine, where it looked a lot like Ireland they said. Funny how we take home with us everywhere. With some crazy twist of fate not one of us was badly hurt. How the hell had we escaped so lucky?
Then out of nowhere but fresh Irish air there was Niall who pulled up in his van, offering help. He stood in the road directing traffic around my mangled car, metal stranded, unmovable in the road. I remember in my shock staring at his feet in his sandals. Wondering at his jolly manner, the light on his face, his soft Limerick lilt and his sunhat. He was just going home for a shower until we happened. Seven people, three cars, smashed in the road.
Mike the paramedic who reminded me I had my life, that cars were replaceable unlike people, while I suddenly released and cried. I had nothing to cry about. Twelve years a medic, he told of everyday different, the life in the ambulance easier than a life in the ER. A county Clare man with a soft voice, reassuring, putting life in perspective. My own. Then someone interrupted and when I next realized he was gone.
Garda (Policeman in Irish words) Burke, who didn't really ask me too many questions like I expected him to. Never a fan of authority, here I was confronted with it, benevolent, without weight. A guard and a middle man dealing with insurance agencies for Peggy and the Americans. Doing his duty above and beyond and beyond again, like his duty was infinity.
4 hours later and Helen, the waitress who stood confused but open as Garda Burke piled me and my mountain of gear into her restaurant where I would shelter until the next steps were figured out. Kindness and gentleness oozing from her. As quick as I arrived and with the deft talent of a magician she produced a pot of tea. Like an Irish granny or mother knowing instinctually what you need she offered brandy to calm my nerves and I being me accepted. It was the best damn brandy I ever had.
I sat outside sucking air into my shaky soul in the middle of the village of Ballyvaughan. There Oliver Foudy arrived with a smile and demeanor that can't be separated from a man of the west of Ireland. He appeared like a warm sun from behind clouds with my little blue smashed car, Peggy, her son and their little silver smashed car piled onto and into his tow truck. I squeezed in for the ride to the garage and we rode along nervously wondering at his driving skills. Quick to remark who's cars were on the back we needn't worry about his he said. A Clare man with a point. His cheer and his fondness for making jokes about French football seemed to make everything feel it was being taken care of and in the middle of the karst limestone landscape around us, it was.
As night wore on I was still miles from anywhere, too shook to figure out options as the rain turned from drizzle to fat drops. I was weary and increasingly achy and the days' never ending headache began to make me feel like enough was enough. Yet there was still my father. After five hours of driving, he arrived tired, hungry, worn down looking like he'd left in a hurry, unshaven. Over a quick sandwich in the village he only joked and reminisced about the last time he found himself anywhere near this part of Ireland. Then we turned around and together drove all the way back again to the sanctuary of my parents home. There was nothing to worry about. That was all I had to remember, he said.
I've heard people remark recently and express doubts about mankind's worth in what seems like a constant conveyer belt of madness. At times I struggle myself to believe that there's anything 'kind' about humankind. Along a country road in Ireland, an event of almost tragic proportions involving countless strangers reminded me that maybe I should believe something else. So here I am walking away with life. What else is there?