Gougane Barra, Co.Cork, Ireland
It may have been ten days since the annual feast of St Valentine was celebrated, but I want to use this week’s blog to talk about love anyway. Love for me is this intense feeling of deep affection for the people in my life. There is a good reason why it’s foremost on my mind. Today, the love of my life celebrates his birthday and I want to dedicate this piece to him. You see, without Damien in my life, I don’t believe I would be half the person I am now. While the 18 years we have been together have seen us change and grow, essentially, we are still the same lost souls who found love at exactly the right time. It was as though the stars aligned and we were carried off to another galaxy by a whirlwind that set us down some years later in a foreign land, with two little blondies to love and care for.
When we first embarked on our journey together, neither of us was particularly religious. We’d never been to mass together apart from attending a couple of weddings. If anything, we had pulled back from the somewhat repressive ways of the church in Ireland. But when it came to tying the knot, I had my heart set on fulfilling my dream of getting married in the little Oratory of Saint Finbarr in Gougane Barra, Ireland. This meant we both had to return to the establishment that is the Catholic Church in order to get the approval we needed and to find a priest who would officiate. We were living in the north-east of England at the time because of Damien’s work and didn’t even know where the nearest church was. But we both knew in our hearts that we wanted our union to have a spiritual dimension to it. So off we went to find it. When we entered the 18th century building that is St Hedda’s for the first time, we both felt a sense of peace and tranquility wash over us. We found Fr Peter sitting in quiet meditation in one of the pews. He turned out to be quite the character- a recovering alcoholic who loved his sober life and spent all his free time hiking with his two dogs. We became friends and when the time came, he gladly accompanied us to Ireland where he married us in a beautiful ceremony, in one of the most special places in the world, surrounded by our friends and families. When our children were born, it was Fr Peter who christened them.
The spirit within
In reconnecting with the church, we were able to get back in touch with our spiritual side and be reminded about the importance of kindness and caring for others. I realise that many people struggle with the word religion as though it is something that restricts people and forces dogma down their throats. But for me, it’s more about spirituality than anything else. I have written about this before and will more than likely write about it again because I believe it is an important aspect of our lives. Spirituality is about connection and love. It teaches us gratitude and encourages us to savour life’s experiences. It allows people to flourish in the knowledge that they are loved. Spirituality means that we are one, that we are all part of a greater force. When we feel part of a greater good, we can come to terms with the fact that life ends in death for us all and that each of us is worthy of love during that life.
I don’t mean to imply that unless you are religious you cannot find connection and love. A secular path can lead us there too. I simply wish to highlight that the true purpose of all religions must be to encourage people to be more loving towards one another and to live peacefully together.
Love, cherish and adore
Love is inherent in us all. But life gets in the way and we forget how important it is to everything that we do. Throughout some of my darker moments, Damien has always reminded me that to love and to be loved is all that matters in life. And while it sounds simple, it is possibly the most challenging mindset to maintain when trying to dodge the slings and arrows of life. It’s not always easy to rid ourselves of our self-serving instincts that are in direct conflict with our desire to love. A little reminder every now and again is needed in order to be reawakened to the real purpose of our lives. Our loved ones know they are loved when we give them our attention, we anticipate their needs, endeavour to understand them, we let them know we are there for them and listen to them. By making time for them, and with a gentle touch of a hand and an engaging gaze of an eye, we can make a person feel loved, cherished and adored. Love can be expressed in a hug that wraps warmth and belonging around a person who might be feeling lost or unworthy. Love really is the panacea for much of life’s hardship. When we know we are loved, we are stronger.
The light of life
I imagine love as a light within me. When I focus on it and appreciate its warmth, I feel love for myself and the world. Love is like the sun – it is a life-giving force. We all carry it within us, and we can all flourish because of it. The very act of loving has the ability to heal us and reconnect us to those we value in our lives. We must not forget the power we have to love.
My birthday gift to my husband is this blog – in thanks to him for loving me these past 18 years and helping me to learn to love myself. As I keep saying, and in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:
Your ability to love another person depends upon your ability to love yourself.
Love to you all, especially to you Damien, Gill xx