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A prayer comeback

30 November, 1999

Dympna M. McMahon tells us how a casual encounter with a man on the bus changed her outlook.

While on the bus last Wednesday, an elderly gentleman sat in beside me and he certainly made me think. He didn’t intend to, but that was the outcome of our shared journey.

He got on to the bus around Stephen’s Green and sat beside me because that was the only seat left. It had been lashing rain all day and, as Irish people do, we started talking about the weather. ‘What do you think has happened to the seasons?’ I asked him. I thought he would have one of those old-fashioned but sensible theories about the Irish summer weather. I thought he might say something like, ‘Well, in 19-  we had a summer just like this and, after the rains stopped, the sun shone non-stop from July until November.’ By his accent I figured he was a Tipperary man. I thought he might have been a farmer in his youth, and farmers know more about the weather than anyone else.

Well, he didn’t say anything like that. He simply said, with utmost sincerity and conviction, that people have become self-centred, greedy and irreligious; they don’t pray enough and therefore don’t deserve any good weather.

The conversation continued in a one-sided fashion because I had nothing to add to this theory about no prayers and the constant rain this summer. My new friend talked about the habit of prayer in his own life, beginning in his childhood with the family Rosary and continuing to this day.

I arrived at my destination far too soon. I was enjoying this stranger’s company and his conversation. Mostly these days when I travel by bus I only hear conversation second hand and it goes along the lines, ‘Yeah! I’m on the bus’ / ‘See yeh in the pub,’ being roared down a maddening ubiquitous mobile phone.

I was brought back to earth with a bang when I stepped on to the footpath and left my new companion behind. We were so friendly now that he waved at me through a rain-lashed bus window.

As I walked the last bit of my journey home I went over in my mind the experience I had just had. I started analysing the life I live today. Compared with the life my friend spoke about, this was a changed world.

There has to be a serious reason for the weather changes we all see nowadays. I’m neither a scientist nor a meteorologist, but I have my doubts that running my car a few miles a week can exert this dramatic change in our summers. As I opened my hall door the six o’clock news was just starting and the main headlines were about stabbings, gang warfare in our big cities, drug seizures, reckless driving and many more such awful items of information that I couldn’t help but hear my bus companion’s opinion ringing in my ears.

Could it be that we deserve water shortages, pollution and all the other problems we face in our daily lives? Do we not pray any more? Are the two things linked? Maybe he had a point. How life has changed since I was a young girl. I walked to and from school with my friends, and never encountered any danger. We were told never speak to strangers, and were given warnings about dangerous situations but we never came across any of them.

We thought nothing of walking up the road to our houses from the last bus at night. We went to dances and parties, and never feared for our safety at the hands of unscrupulous people who might lace our drinks – the reason being there were no drinks at our dances and parties. After paying the admission, most of us didn’t have the price of a mineral. We danced till we nearly wore holes in our shoes and enjoyed ourselves to the point of exhaustion.

At home what did we have? Not everyone had a television fifty years ago but we did. I watched Dixon of Dock Green with a kind of hero worship. At weekends I watched a programme called Six Five Special where I first saw Tommy Steele and thought I was in Hollywood, even though I didn’t know where Hollywood was. On radio we listened to the Archers, the Kennedys of Castleross and Mrs Dale’s Diary.

We had simple pleasures then. The family meal was sacrosanct. Homework was done every night and every evening was rounded off with the family Rosary. We children didn’t like that part of the day but didn’t dare say a word. I still remember fits of the giggles about nothing at all.

We certainly didn’t have Picassos, or art of any kind, on our walls but there was always the huge picture of the Sacred Heart. We were city kids; we were no Holy Joes, whatever they were. We had the key in the door always and there was a welcome for anyone who called. We were part of a community. We knew our neighbours and they knew us. Several mothers had a role in our upbringing. They cared about us; people cared about each other back then.

Where has it all gone? What happened to the key in the door? Is prayer a part of yesteryear? What made us not care about each other? Are we all too busy? But why? Yes, we have gained economically; of that there is no doubt. But has the price been too high?

I look out at another day’s incessant rain and think about my friend on the bus. I wonder if he was right. To my shame, I haven’t said a family Rosary for years. Sometimes I’m in too much of a hurry to pray. I admit I forget about such things at the end of a busy day. But not any more. I have remembered to take time with the Lord every day this week and it is a good feeling. I like it so much that I shall do my best to keep it up.

Public transport may be pilloried for a lot of things like being late, being unreliable, dirty, too expensive, not going to the places of our choice. Public transport has been the cause of my reappraisal of my life. Had I not met my anonymous companion, I would not have had the opportunity to re-think my life and my prayer routine. And imagine, it only cost me a €2.80 two trip ticket! 

This article first appeared in The Messenger (January 2006), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.

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