I was driving along a long leafy road in Dublin recently — so leafy that if it was Paris and not the Irish capital, it would probably be referred to as a boulevard. It was a morning where big clouds were full of sun showers, where the sun threatened at times to break through in glorious bursts. On a morning like this, which could go one way or the other, the umbrella was best kept close at hand — and it would most likely not be doubling as a parasol.
I saw the outline of an elderly man shuffling along with a shopping bag in his hand — it was an outline that was instantly familiar — the nonconforming shoulder-length hair of a beatnik whose whitened locks marked the passage of time and a life full of living.
As I drove past, I was right. It was my old professor of journalism — a man that taught the basics of putting pen to paper, paper to typewriter, and right to the world that was full of so many wrongs.
Whether it be a life full of clouds or one where sun breaks through even if only occasionally, the sun does indeed set on even the most perfect of days
I pulled off the busy road where I could and waited for John to come along.
“That’s a sight for sore eyes,” I said.
“The voice seems familiar but the eyes aren’t as good,” he says.
Quickly, the decades were rolled back, and I was once more the know-it-all eager and enthusiastic student soaking up every pearl of wisdom that fell from my professor’s lips.
It is the time of coronavirus and I knew not whether to shake his hand, elbow bump, or do whatever people do now when they meet long-lost friends and those who mean so much.
He was good, John was, and had come through the virus unscathed — as much as so many of us have done.
We talked of fellow classmates, of the day’s news, of happenings and politics, journalism and the personalities who bring so much colour to the black and white of pages and screens.
But this professor before me had aged and his eyes were tired.
“I’m turning 80 soon and would love to see as many of you as possible,” he said.
We were his first year of teaching journalism, a new postgraduate course in an institution that has long-since become another full-fledged university in Dublin. But because the 19 of us in the class were the first, we were special. Sadly, there are only 18 of us left — Seamus passing away in Washington in the full February grip of last winter.
Ribald gathering of us all
It is a long time since we have all been together. Maybe that is a good thing, given the recovery time necessary after such a ribald gathering of us all.
But John’s 80th birthday might indeed be worthwhile gathering once more — none of us are getting any younger and it is good to come together and reminisce of younger days, a world full of dreams, of lives lived.
Maybe now, after these days of coronavirus, we need to come together more and remember what united us, what we share in common, what we should celebrate — and yes, commiserate.
John and I parted on a promise that we would all see each other soon — and indeed I do hope that comes to fruition. It would be nice to drink once more from the overflowing fountain of the dreams of youth, of lives lived, of people and places and things.
None of us are getting any younger. That is not the wisdom of age but the reality of each dawn. Whether it be a life full of clouds or one where sun breaks through even if only occasionally, the sun does indeed set on even the most perfect of days.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe