Friday, July 01, 2005

Years a-growing

Just over the hill from here and across a mile of water is the Blasket Island, formerly the home of a tiny community of Irish speaking people who collectively gave rise to an astonishing body of literature in that language. One of those books is Maurice O'Sullivan's memoir of growing up in the Blasket, Twenty Years A-Growing, in translation one of the Oxford World Classics.

O'Sullivan recounts the time when he and his young friend Tomas hitch a ride off the island to visit the Ventry Races on the mainland. It is the first time Tomas has left the place of his birth. As the boys reach the mountain pass across the Blasket Sound, Tomas looks down on the parish of Ventry and says, "Oh, Maurice, isn't Ireland wide and spacious!"

Today, less than a century later, one can have the internet on the Blasket, and -- if one wishes -- instant access to the latest photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope -- the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Photograph, for instance, with its thousands of galaxies from the dawn of time. Our response to these marvelous celestial images should be the same gape-jawed sense of wonder experienced by Tomas: "Oh, isn't the universe wide and spacious!"

But many of us turn our eyes away or put the knowledge of the myriad galaxies out of our mind. Faced with a universe vast beyond our knowing we experience a failure of nerve, we turn back down the hill to the place where the boat lies bobbing in the sea. We prefer our tight little island, centered upon ourselves, watched over by a loving parent...

...and forego the opportunity for adventure and growth that took boys from the Blasket into wide, spacious Ireland and the world beyond.