By Seán Mullan
Ah yes, I remember it well!
“Do you remember when…?” Ah yes, I remember it well. At least, I think I do.
There’s a lot of us who don’t remember so well any more. There are 55,000 people in Ireland with a condition called dementia. Dementia’s another name for remembering badly. And 55,000 is a lot of people in a population of 4.5 million - that’s over 1% of the population. And the experts say that number is going to treble in the next 30 years. So by 2046, there may be well over 150,000 people with dementia. That’s a lot of bad remembering.
Bad remembering. There’s more than one kind. There’s the kind that simply forgets the facts. “I’ve no idea where I put my keys/wallet/wife/whiskey.” Or the promises: “I just forgot to call/text/email/facetime/whatsapp.”
Then there’s the kind of bad remembering that remembers “those people” from “that time” as though they were some kind of lesser beings. If we’d been there, we wouldn’t have done that. How could they not see the consequences of what they did? Why didn’t they stop - and think again?
Remembering is a big deal in 2016. It marks the centenary of two big events in Ireland’s story. 1916 was the year that saw nearly 500 people die on the streets of Dublin following a rebellion that ultimately led to the political arrangements we still have.
1916 was also the year that saw almost 4,000 Irish people die as part of the British army at the Battle of the Somme. Over half of those casualties came from what would soon become Northern Ireland. Many of the others had relatives, friends, or neighbours who, earlier that year, had fought the British army on the streets of Dublin.
Complicated it was and complicated it is. A hundred years on, how do we remember all this well? It’s no simple task. Remembering well involves a kind of inner reenacting, putting yourself in the place of those who have gone before. It means trying to walk their bit of the road, in their shoes, wondering at what they saw and dreamed and feared. It means looking at the detail of their lives, their choices, their pressures and their fears and then wondering what their past says to my present.
Remembering well also means realising that we are part of the same story. Too often, remembering is done as though we ourselves are outside the story, able to see it all, sum it up, learn the lessons and move on. But how do you move on if you’re part of the same story? And that’s the point - the story continues. It hasn’t ended yet. None of us knows the end. We look back in hope that we might look forward with a little more wisdom, but we’re all characters in one tale.
Heading towards Easter 1916 reminds me of a much older Easter. As the events of that earth-shaking week were coming to their conclusion, Jesus of Nazareth told his band of followers to remember him by eating and drinking. Eating and drinking, is it? Surely you could do better than that? And not eating and drinking special things, but the food and drink of every day - bread and wine could have been found on any table in any home in those times.
Remembering well is done in the ordinary, in the everyday, in the humdrum detail of the lives we live every day. To remember well is to remember that we share the journey, share the road, share the table, and share the story.
Seán Mullan has been working in church leadership for many years. He has developed a new project in Dublin City Centre called “Third Space”.